Hugh Hayden’s latest exhibition, Huey, presents visuals of social assimilation through a kamikaze of cultural references spanning sports, fairy tales, television, and African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), each carefully coded.

Sculptures are adorned with synthetic and organic materials to represent the natural and unnatural camouflage of Black bodies within the mainstream United States. In “Good Hair 1” (2021), cherry red nylon bristles — usually associated with industrial brooms — replace the velvety seating of church pews, drawing a parallel between the invisibility of God and the servitude of Black folk. The beach-blonde kanekalon of “Rapunzel” (2021) replaces the standard hoop net as 68 inches of braided hair pay homage to “baddie culture” — an aesthetic designed by Black and Hispanic women in the ’90s.

An uneasy mixture of joy and trauma, the included works combine elements of spaces in which Black Americans gather, heal, and memorialize. Hoop dreams come to life as rattan and vine are loosely woven together for “Cinderella” (2021) and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” (2021), while “Juneteenth” (2021) evokes a silent presence of lives lost and celebrated.

Hugh Hayden, “Good Hair 1” (2021)

Overall, Huey functions as a life-sized triptych, displaying scenes of piety, acceleration, and solace. Viewers become active characters in a loop of praise, play, and death upon entrance and exit. Meditating on the false freedoms and false securities of blaccelerationism, to have a Black American dream is to exist at the crossroads of right and wrong, plight and ascension. Hayden portrays the tensions in conformity and echoes Huey P. Newton’s legacy against the backdrop of last year’s racial reckoning — the artist calls out to us, awaiting a response.

Hugh Hayden, “Rapunzel” (2021)
Hugh Hayden, “Cinderella” (2021)

Hugh Hayden: Huey continues at Lisson Gallery (504 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through August 13.

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Shameekia Shantel Johnson

Shameekia Shantel Johnson is a writer and curator of Jamaican descent whose work focuses on contemporary art forms. Shameekia is also one of many members of black beyond,...