On March 30 at 5 p.m., the Peninsula Fine Arts Center presents "Imagine Isabella," a live performance representing the spirit of an Angolan Slave girl from 400 years ago and a panel discussion of the exhibit of sculptures called "Cash Crop," which closes March 31.
By Lea Luellen
Hampton VA-- Sankofa is a Ghanaian word meaning "look to your past to guide your future." The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News is asking visitors to do just that. "African Art: Power and Identity," which opened January 18 and runs through April 28, includes sculptures, paintings, textiles, masks, and jewelry. The central exhibit, "Cash Crop," by sculptor and artist Stephen Hayes, reveals the power of the African Diaspora, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and its lingering effects over the past 400 years. ."
Hayes is a mixed media creator from Durham, North Carolina and a professor at Duke University where he teaches Art, Art History, and Visual Studies.
Though the statues have been called "graphic" by some, Hayes said the images represent a reality viewers need to grapple with
"The question is, what's too graphic for learning? It's about the transporting of people as goods and commodity and connecting it back to today and how we outsource our goods from one place to another, asking the question of who or what is the next cash crop. It's bringing a light to a past, and a light to a present," said Hayes during an interview after opening night at the fine arts center.
"Cash Crop" includes 15 life-sized statues that represent the estimated 15 million slaves brought to the colonies during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The statues are bound with shackles from their necks to their feet. Their backs are each attached to a wooden board, which shows how bodies were packed during the slave journey, representing the treatment of slaves as goods and commodities instead of human beings. All 15 statues are connected to a large wooden pallet.
"The pallet represents today and how our goods come from these third world countries. The slave ship plan reminds me of a sweat shop in a third world country. If you take the roof off, it looks like they packed people inside with just enough room to produce as many goods as possible," said Hayes in an interview with The Guilfordian, the student newspaper for Guilford College.
Hampton students who attended the opening said they were affected by the exhibit.
"The piece itself showed years of progress from the entry as property to the current state as prosperous. I was emotionally involved by just looking at the chained necks of the sculptures...it made me feel like me, myself was in captivity," said Josiah-Belfon Valentine, a Hampton University student.
During the opening, Hayes wore locks past his shoulders with a T-shirt saying, "There is a King in all of us." He related his work to America today, to symbolize the evolution of slavery from 400 years ago to 2019.
"You see, this is what art is about, creating a rush of emotion in individuals that causes us to think and feel," said Julianna Sarr, owner of Elixir Art Gallery in Hampton, VA.
Sarr is a multimedia artist who will be Using Hayes' Cash Crop as a backdrop for her first performance art piece, "Imagine Isabella" at the arts center on March 31st. After the interactive performance art piece, a live panel will discuss the effects of African enslavement and diaspora on America today.
Hayes has been touring the 15-piece ensemble since 2010. Its permanent home is the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. It will be on loan to the Peninsula Fine Arts Center until March 31st.
The larger exhibit that includes Hayes' work, entitled African Art: Power & Identity, is part of a region-wide celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans. About twenty arrived at Point Comfort near Jamestown in 1619.