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.