There were many pieces of artwork at the Washington National Cathedral as part of the “By The People” entertainment festival that opened on Thursday, but sculptures by artist Stephen Hayes were among the displays that were most impactful.
The array consisted of eight busts of various African-American men, each of whom had the voice of an African-American teenager. According to Hayes, the busts along with the voices represent his belief that life for the teenagers has not changed significantly from when the adults were teenagers. Hayes said both the voices and the heads are of real people who live in Washington, D.C..
“I talked to both young and old black men in D.C. about what they are going through in their life and how they are judged,” Hayes said.
Born in North Carolina, Hayes received his Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts in Visual Communication from North Carolina Central University in 2006 and his Masters Degree of Fine Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010. Hayes received national attention early in his career for a piece of artwork called ‘Cash Crop’ that explored the slave trade in an extremely powerful and graphic way. The display consisted of 15 statues of people of various ages, each statue representing one million slaves. The statues were modeled on friends and family of Hayes.
There are plenty of opportunities for artwork that revolve around black culture, Hayes said, but he wanted to focus on something current for the festival project.
“I wanted to talk about the legacy of what it means to be black,” Hayes said. “The struggle they are going through is the same struggle I went through when I was a kid.”
While his work may be impressive and powerful, Hayes said the main goal of the project is to both give pride to black men and let others know of how things like crime and poverty affect their lives.
“The aim of this project is to create a platform for African-American males,” Hayes said. “I want to create awareness about what black people go through daily in American society.”
The message of Hayes’s project also seemed to resonate with attendees. Libby Lye, a spectator at the event, said the point of the art had an impact on her.
“I think the busts being done in similar casts and style really shows the unification through the society and they all kind of have this shared experience,” Lye said.
Despite putting heavy emphasis on what his goal with the project was, Hayes said there is not one main thing he wants people to take away from his work, which took over three months to complete.
“It’s all up to the people to decide to themselves what they want to take away from my work,” Hayes said.