Stephen Hayes: Cash Crop: Touring Museum Exhibition

26 May - 24 June 2023
I’ve seen that image of how they put people on the ships, and it made me think about how people still benefit from that today. I started to put that image in some of my iconography. I put the slave ship [image] inside an ear of corn. Corn is a modified organism — when I put the slave ship in corn, it’s talking about how we as people can make a modified organism, how we’re being programmed to produce a certain outcome. I use three images throughout my artwork: a horse, an ear of corn and a pawn. My work deals with capitalism, consumerism and brainwashing, and the idea is how the Black body is represented today.

This installation and exhibition, “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. Sweatshops today are mirror images of slave ships from the past—people have just enough space to produce as many goods as possible.”


This installation is touring museums throughout the US, including the African American Museum, Gantt Center, and CONTAINER Santa Fe.