In Hugh Hayden's sculptures and culinary installations—whether carved from wood, rendered in cast iron, or pieced from cardboard boxes—familiar items associated with food, home, and childhood undergo unexpected and at times threatening transformations. Through these reimaginations, Hayden reflects on the history of social politics in the U.S. and the contribution of enslaved Africans to American culture and cuisine.Read More
Hugh Hayden selects different species of wood for different projects, carefully considering the historical and social contexts within which they exist. In the midst of Mexico-U.S. border disputes in 2018, for example, the artist used mesquite, an indigenous species in Texas that is regarded as invasive and undesirable, to contemplate the notions of border control, citizenship, and systemic discrimination in the U.S. Thorns sprout from the surface of resulting sculptures, as can be seen in the child's crib in Oreo and a kitchen table set in America (both 2018), thus undermining the presumed safety and nurture associated with home.
The ideal of the American Dream is at the core of Hedges (2019), a wooden house engulfed in a mass of tree branches, that was installed in a room with wall-sized mirrors. The mirrors reflect the illusion of a row of houses—a portrayal of the fantasy that, as the artist told onEarth Magazine in 2019, involves 'blending into a landscape that is also a social landscape'.
As he told Elvira Dyangani Ose in 2020, Hugh Hayden's culinary installations emerged from the dinner parties he organised with friends as a student. Beginning as impromptu get-togethers, the dining sessions evolved into an elaborate curation of food and eventually into the artist devising his own furniture to 'enhance the experience of a meal'.
In Hayden's solo exhibition American Food at Lisson Gallery, London (2020), the artist attempted to portray the difficulty of engaging with people at group meals in three sets of newly made picnic tables. Respectively titled Can't we all just get along, Communion, and Honorary Natives and the elephant in the middle of the room, the tables are anything but practical, having been covered with outstretched branches and thorns.
Hayden's use of African masks in American Food also explored the question of authenticity, and the significance of Southern cuisine in American history and culture. The 26 cast-iron skillets hung across the walls were cast from molds that Hayden based on antique pans and African wooden masks. Though seemingly ranging from dark brown to black, none are truly black; their colours depend on the layers of grapeseed oil that the artist applied before firing. As Hayden said in his interview with Ose, 'For me, it didn't matter so much how authentic the masks were, as a Black person in the U.S. I consider it as an intentional diaspora.'
Creation Myths, Art@Bainbridge, Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey (2020); End of Days, CLEARING, Brussels (2019); Border States, Lisson Gallery, New York (2018); White Columns, New York (2018); Hugh the Hunter: A Film Installation, Amon Carter Museum, Texas (2017).
Harlem Triennial, New York (2020); Among the Trees, Hayward Gallery, London (2020); Dog Days, CLEARING, Brooklyn (2019); Tomorrow Will Still Be Ours, Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York (2017); Fact of the Matter, Socrates Sculpture Park, New York (2014).
Hugh Hayden's work address the African cultural origins of American food, and remind us of the cultural, creative, and healing aspects of cooking and sharing a meal.⠀