PhD Student Danielle Purifoy Explores Environmental Racism Through New Multimedia Exhibit

March 15, 2017

Contact: Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084,

Story by Sergio Tovar, social media specialist; video by Sean Rowe, multimedia and web content specialist

DURHAM, N.C. – “In Conditions of Fresh Water,” a multimedia exhibit showcasing the research of Danielle Purifoy, a doctoral student in environmental policy at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, will be on display at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies through June 3.

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Dyson (left) and Purifoy in their mobile, solar-powered workspace.
(Image courtesy Tony M. Bingham)

The exhibit features art, drawings, photographs, oral histories and audio that explore environmental racism in the South.

It stems from a collaborative documentary research project Purifoy recently conducted with Brooklyn-based artist Torkwase Dyson to document the challenges faced by residents of traditionally black towns and communities in Alamance County, North Carolina, and Lowndes County, Alabama.

Many of these communities, which were settled on land often considered undesirable and which date back to the post-Civil War era, still lack access to viable wastewater infrastructure, which threatens the health of residents, water quality and future development.

Purifoy, who is also a licensed attorney, is focusing her doctoral research on race and environmental inequality, environmental justice law and the interactive effects of environmental harms on health and quality of life.

Dyson is a painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, among others. In March 2016, Dyson began an extended residency at Duke through a Visiting Artist grant to the Nicholas School.

Two related events, sponsored by sponsored by the Nicholas School’s Rising TIDE initiative on diversity and inclusion, will be held in March as part of the “In Conditions of Fresh Water” project.  

On March 20, Dyson will be joined by Rich Blint, a widely cited scholar on the writings of James Baldwin, for an artists’ conversation at the Center for Documentary Studies. Blint is a Scholar-in-Residence in the MFA Program in Performance + Performance Studies at the Pratt Institute in New York City.

On March 23, Earthea Nance, associate professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, will present a lecture, “Innovation, Participation, and Discourse in Brazil’s Sanitation Sector,” at Field Auditorium in Environment Hall, located at 9 Circuit Drive on Duke’s West Campus.