Stephen Hayes: Reclaiming the Discarded
February 3, 2024 - April 6, 2024

Artist and Duke University Art professor Stephen Hayes developed a fascination with building, tinkering, reconfiguring, and reimagining, finding scraps of material to transform into his own unique creations in the 1st grade. His works embody themes that critique capitalism and consumerism, touch on the deep historical threads of the transatlantic slave trade, and reshape cultural perceptions of Black subjectivity. 


Fundamental to this exhibition is Hayes’ treatment of Black hair. Graceful in its intricately interwoven and gravity defying structure, Hayes uses a wide range of materials, styles, and conceptual lenses to examine this characteristically diasporic and polarizing feature.


Tactile and dreamlike in its cloudy construction, raw cotton buds incorporated into Hayes’ sculptures tell a story underscoring the juxtaposition between idyll and toil. While pastoral iconography is often the nostalgic fuel that drives the concept of the American Dream forward into the present day, this ‘advancement’ depends on the erasure of the living labor that was consumed to manufacture this dream. Hayes writes US history in permanent ink with his rendering of the Black body as the bedrock upon which the country’s cultural capital is built. 


Notions of cultural capital are reoriented through a modern lens in Hayes’ larger than life interrogations of the gaudy, shimmering, and resplendent. His rumination on capitalism, consumerism, and brainwashing are contained within the reflective surfaces that bring these works to life. Hayes calls us to question what exactly we are being told to aspire to and whose interests are truly served when we dedicate our lives to pursuing these aspirations.