By Ryan James, Guest Writer
Photos courtesy of Terry Hammond
A mixed-media installation called “Cash Crop” has found a temporary home in Guilford College’s Art Gallery.
“The first time I saw the exhibit, I walked right by the gallery and then immediately turned around to go look at it,” said third year Alexandria Gregory. “Another woman I didn’t know did the same, and we just walked around together with our mouths hanging open.”
The award-winning installation is the work of Stephen Hayes, a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art & Design and a native of Durham. Inspired by a desire to “tie together the past and the present,” Hayes’ art brings history to life in a manner that is both provocative and educational.
“We were taught about slavery, but [our education did not] address the extent to which people were considered goods and shipped to different ports as commodities as items, rather than human beings,” Hayes explained in a phone interview.
The installation features fifteen life-sized figures fashioned from wood and cement. Viewers are encouraged to walk among the statues, all of which are connected by a chain to a pallet in the middle of the floor.
“In the quiet of the gallery, these figures spoke to me of the horrific things they endured: being torn from their homes, shackled like prisoners, forced to make a two-month journey at sea in conditions so miserable they can hardly be described,” said gallery director and curator Terry Hammond in an email interview. “At the same time, I also marveled at the artist’s skill and determination in creating such an intense and powerful work of art.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the college enrolling its first African-American student. Hammond hopes that in bringing the exhibit to Guilford, it prompts dialogue about the connection between United States’ history and its impact on modern understandings of race.
“As an African-American woman, I was glad to see this exhibit,” Gregory said. “In this day and age, and on a campus that is predominantly white, it is good to see art that addresses aspects of race and history in a bold and compelling way.”
Hayes explains that the significance of Cash Crop extends beyond the narrative of the United States’ slave trade. “[There is a parallel between] the Brookes’ slave ship plan and the cramped quarters of sweatshops in third world countries,” he said. He hopes that Cash Crop will encourage viewers to engage in discussions about both past and present forms of enslavement.
“I want my artwork to be for the everyday person,” Hayes explained. “[I don’t want it to be] something they will have to research to get. I like to wow my audience and capture their attention on first glance, then build a conversation on what it is about.”
To join the conversation, visit the Guilford College Art Gallery on Friday, September 7th from 6:30-7:00 PM for a “Meet the Creator” reception with Hayes, open to all.