Stephen Hayes – Cash Crop
Dimensions: 500-800 sq ft
Medium: 15 lifesized mixed media figures, with concrete, woodblock, iron
The sculpture exhibit, “Cash Crop,” depicts the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and seeks to create a connection between human rights violations of the past and the present. Hayes’ goal for the exhibit was to create 15 life-size models to symbolize the 12.5 million Africans imported to the Americas from 1526 to 1867 during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. “This body of work serves as a reflection of the past and a glimpse of our present,” Hayes said. “The rear of each model displays a map outline of the Brookes slave ship. The map outlines correspond to how slavery in the Americas was established maintained and provided economic wealth for Europeans. Through the mending of materials, this exhibition brings a new dynamic to the history of the slave trade for modern-day visitors. Cash Crop is not only about the transporting of people as commodities, but it is also about how America still benefits from outsourcing and sweatshop labor in developing countries.
Stephen L. Hayes, Jr. makes art—woodcuts, sculptures, installations small and large—from found materials that draw on social and economic themes ingrained in the history of America and African-Americans. His approach is simple: “If I can’t find it, I’ll make it. If I can’t make it, I’ll find it.” He went to North Carolina Central University, aiming to transfer to North Carolina State University to study mechanical engineering. Instead, through a friend, he discovered graphic design. His new major led to a ceramics course, where his enthusiasm and skill led to being allowed as much time as he wanted on the wheel. He threw enough pots to develop a strong portfolio, leading to a residency at the acclaimed New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Hayes earned an MFA in sculpture at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. His thesis exhibition, Cash Crop, has been traveling and exhibiting for nearly a decade.
Frequently in his work, Hayes uses three symbols: a pawn, a corn, and a horse to explore America’s use (or misuse) of Black bodies, Black minds, and Black labor. Artists, he believes, are as much translators as they are creators.