Starting on Oct. 20, you might have noticed an art gallery fill up one of the empty storefronts on Franklin. Cash Crop!, is an art installation by Durham artist Stephen Hayes. The gallery consists of 15 life-size sculptures that represent that 15 million enslaved Africans sold through the slave trade. This gallery is a must-see.
This free pop-up gallery is part of a greater University initiative to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the first enslaved people from Africa brought to the United States. Sponsored by the UNC Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, this is a community effort to remember and understand the slave trade in a different setting. As opposed to traditional classroom education, this gallery challenges the ideas of what enslavement, and enslaved peoples, looked like.
The artist hopes that, "when people see it, they think, ‘It looks like somebody I know,’ or, ‘It looks like me." Through this display, Hayes is able to bring audiences in to begin to comprehend the human element of the slave trade and modern racism.
Hayes' work is also reflective of North Carolina history. The shackles on the bodies in the exhibit are made from nails taken from railroad tracks. Many of these nails were placed by imprisoned African Americans forced onto chain gangs to produce infrastructure in this state. As a local artist, Hayes is tying together local history to the greater narrative of enslavement and its legacies.
All members of the Chapel Hill community should visit this space. Take a break from your walk to Frutta Bowls, and spend some time enjoying and grappling with art. This work provides important historical context and a unique view into the world of slavery. It is not easy, but it is incredibly meaningful to face these realities up close. Doing so through art can facilitate this understanding and preserve history.
Along with viewing an incredible gallery, this art should be appreciated in support of local artists. Stephen Hayes is a Durham native, and prefers to be called a “creator” instead of an artist. We should be uplifting local creators that challenge our perceptions of the past and encourage us to think critically about what they create. Hayes does just this with "Cash Crop!"
The gallery will close on Nov. 18. The gallery is located in the center of our community, and it shines light on the ways in which slavery brought this place to where it is today. Students, faculty and members of the community should visit this exhibit to get a deeper understanding of what "Cash Crop!" represents, and experience the power of the statues first-hand.