Stephen L. Hayes Jr., Mason Murer
Looming throughout the main gallery of Mason Murer were 15 crude life-sized models of slaves, chained together and connected to a wood carved map of the New World. The environment was ominous and heavy, charged with emotion and historical reflection. The expressionless faces of the sculptures pointed directly toward the main door, greeting the audience with blank stares. The chains were rusted and gnarly, and rattled along the floor. Walking through the exhibition, one felt the atmosphere the artist was trying to create.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) M.F.A. candidate Stephen L. Hayes Jr. presented this body of sculptural work for his thesis exhibition, Cash Crop, last Friday at Mason Murer. Each sculpture was made of wood, clay, fibers, found objects, and recycled materials in conjunction with printmaking. Hayes has incorporated historical research based on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, including the transportation of slaves and the monetary value attached to each African life, and created the slave models as representations of the fifteen million Africans imported to the New World from 1540 to 1850. On the back of each sculpture, a map of a slave ship was meticulously carved. “These map outlines demonstrate how the New World was economically established and maintained,” says Hayes, “and how the New World accommodated a way of living to bring about economic opportunity.”
A sculpture M.F.A. thesis is intended to provide an opportunity for the student to make a professional presentation of their work and a defense of the themes and direction of their personal visions. Hayes reflection of the past through his own personal insights and artistic talents led to an expressively charged, successful exhibition that invoked a response from everyone in the audience. And that’s what a true work of art is intended to do.
Best of luck to Stephen L. Hayes Jr. in achieving his M.F.A. Cash Crop is on display at Mason Murer.