At many historic sites in the United States, guides, officially called “historical interpreters,” create and lead tours for visitors. In The Interpreter Project, her first video work, Hayes “re-interprets” tours given at the historic houses of four prominent American women: Clara Barton, a nurse and humanitarian who was a founder of the American Red Cross in 1881 and its first president; Maggie Walker, a schoolteacher and businesswoman who became the first female African American bank president, in 1903; Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights leader who founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 and served as a policy advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Eleanor Roosevelt, a civil rights advocate and, as wife of President Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. Each of these four sites was the woman’s home as well as the location of much of her political and social service. They are the only US National Historic Sites specifically dedicated to women.
Repeating the texts of the tours given at these houses, Hayes makes evident their construction of a “feminized” historical narrative. This work marks Hayes’s departure from theatrical venues in favor of a public performative practice that focuses on the complex relationships between history, politics, and desire.
Gallery label from Performing Histories: Live Artworks Examining the Past, September 12, 2012–March 8, 2013.