A marker of race second only to skin pigmentation, hair has long been a significant part of identity, particularly in the African-American community. Curly, kinky, straight, or in braids, African-American hair holds within it an element of performance, of enacted style. Moreover, hair practices and the choices surrounding them continually attract (at times, disturbing) discussion. At the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama’s single out-of-place curl drew attention during her speech, even inspiring its own Twitter account.
Artist Hugh Hayden has harnessed the universal infatuation with hair in a spectrum of works exploring tensions in race, class, and gender while employing minimal materials. The Dallas native and Cornell University alumnus repeatedly combines elements of low and high culture, hiring local beauticians to cornrow the hair of rare taxidermy animals such as the Arctic musk ox or the Icelandic sheep, or manipulating expensive, synthetic weaves to mummify and shackle icons of African descent: an American Girl Addy doll, Egyptian Royal Wife Nefertiti, and US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Hair acts simultaneously as a symbol of limitation and style.
Hayden’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at a recent residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. While hair offers initial entry into Hayden’s work, his oeuvre is rapidly expanding to include a range of material, from black spray painted cotton plants to chairs built of stacked tennis balls. September is a pivotal month for Hayden: after winning a competition to design an installation for Alexander Wang’s flagship store in SoHo (unveiled September 6), Hayden is also part of the EAF12: 2012 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park.
At Alexander Wang, Hayden built a three dimensional Cartesian grid of black metal and rubber, and at Socrates Sculpture Park, Hayden presents American Hero # 4, a piece that connects hair culture with American identity. The canvas for Hayden’s piece is a 1965 Ford Mustang, completely painted in stark white. Affixed to the car is Hayden’s interpretation of a racing stripe, two ten-inch-thick bands of braided hair, mixing an icon of American mainstream culture with vernacular African-American hair styling practice. Open through March 31, the Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition displays Hayden’s bold creation of tensions across social boundaries.
WHERE TO SEE IT
Alexander Wang flagship store, 103 Grand Street; EAF 12: 2012 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition, Socrates Sculpture Park