U.S Ceramicist, Donté Hayes was born in Baltimore, Maryland; grew up in Columbia, Maryland; and spent most of his life in the Atlanta, Georgia metro area. He currently spends his time between living in New Jersey and Georgia with his partner Kelly, who he tells us is 'an amazing person, artist, and high school teacher'. <3 Read on to hear how symbolism associated with pineapples have been a theme throughout his work, and how Hip-Hop culture and Sci-Fi play a major role connecting his artwork to the past, the present, and the future; and the possible futures interconnected to the African Diaspora.
What is your background? How did you start working with ceramics?
I have a background working in painting, drawing, printmaking, and creating graphics, posters, and album covers for hip-hop artists and rap groups. I started working in ceramics later in life when I enrolled in a Ceramics 1 class at Kennesaw State University in Georgia with professor, mentor, and now friend, Jeff Campana. The only reason I even enrolled in a ceramics class was to fulfil my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Printmaking degree. I'm so glad I enrolled in Professor Jeff Campana's class because it changed my life. Seeing his love and passion for clay inspired me to have a passion for working in clay and to see how far my ideas can grow through the medium. Ceramics is the only medium that has the ability for me to commune with the past, discuss the present, and explore possible futures interconnected to the African Diaspora. While also examining deeper social issues that broaden the conversation between all of humanity.
Your pieces are born out of research on the symbolism of the pineapple - from its representation of hospitality to its roots in slavery. How have you used the symbol to explore the struggles that you've encountered as a Black man and POC?
The pineapple is a plant with a hard outer exterior that resembles mesh or a breastplate. The inside of the pineapple is juicy, with a sweet inner flesh that is delicious to eat and drink. This duality of the pineapple is what I am most interested in exploring. From this inquiry, I have used my research on the pineapple as a symbol which represents welcoming and hospitality to investigate the rituals, and the action of being welcomed or hospitable to others because of my own struggles as a black man and person of colour. The tradition of the pineapple as a symbol for hospitality is rooted in slavery and agricultural colonization of South America, the Caribbean, and the Southern United States, in particular, South Carolina and my home state of Georgia. I connected the history of slave ships bringing enslaved African to port with the foreman placing a pineapple on a spike. The pineapple becoming the beacon to identify a new shipment of enslaved Africans has arrived and thus originating the pineapple as a symbol for welcoming.
Due to the innate memory of clay, I chose the material to illuminate the resonance of touch and repetition. This can point to the rituals that I endure when creating the mark that adorns my work. With this in mind, I also wanted to create a texture that felt welcoming. For some, it may be a cosy blanket, a shaggy carpet, a furry dog, and /or a soft warm sweater. When I think of the essence of welcoming, my mother's hair always comes to mind. My mom pulls her hair out, and discards it throughout the day, leaving traces of herself wherever she goes. Similar to how forensics finds missing people through hair follicles, I associate the remnants of DNA to my African ancestry, even though I've never been to Africa. Also, this texture resembling hair can now imply the surface of coral. This pulls from the history of the middle passage when some enslaved Africans were thrown overboard, and their burial was amongst the coral.
Lastly, the primarily black colour of the ceramic sculptures become content for the viewer to imagine the presence of the black body in spaces, places, and times where it may or may not be hospitable.
Hip-Hop culture and Sci-Fi also influence your work - please can you tell us more?
Hip-Hop culture and Sci-Fi play a major role in connecting my artwork to the past, the present, and the future. Hip-Hop culture was created by black people living on the margins of society, to illuminate the plight of black and brown people and the poor. My work incorporates rap music because music is a universal art form that can bring all people together. The texture I use on the surface of my ceramic sculptures mimics sound waves and the beats found in hip-hop music. I also like to use sci-fi pop-cultural references for the titles of my artwork. The sculpture titled, "Dalek," is an acknowledgement of the fictional extraterrestrial race from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) sci-fi series Dr Who. The Dalek race is the main antagonist to the hero Dr Who. Dalek sees their sole purpose is to exterminate all life in the galaxy they view as unfit. I relate the concept of the Dalek to the Black experience of violence perpetrated by white supremacy and the police. Many of the themes in science-fiction explore alienation or being the "other", in society. Being African American I can relate to the feeling of not being of this world or different.
Afrofuturism is a term coined by culture critic, Mark Dery, in his 1993 essay 'Black to the Future' - what does Afrofuturism mean to you?
I define Afrofuturism as a projected vision of an imagined future which critiques the historical and cultural events interconnected to the African Diaspora through the use of hip-hop culture, science fiction, and history. While also examining deeper social issues which broaden the conversation between all of humanity.
How do you develop your ideas from the research stage and what’s your process of working?
I develop my ideas from the research stage to a finished work of art through the process of listening to music and or listening to previously watched sci-fi movies and television shows like Star Wars or Star Trek. while creating the artwork. I allow the clay to dictate the form, size, and movement by becoming one with the material, repetition of my hands, and the repetition of the beats in the music I'm currently listening to. Once I'm happy with the form, I then begin marking the form using a needle tool to create the surface. I see my ceramic work as three-dimensional prints because of the marks are scratches similar to etching a copper plate.
How do you like to work?
I like to work early in the morning. My favourite time to start my day in the studio is 2 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m. I enjoy listening to music or listening to previously watched sci-fi moves and television shows.