Hugh Hayden’s Cast Iron Skillets Evoke West-African Masks

An artist named Hugh Hayden has churned the winds of creativity in the cooking domains. The winds are not sweeping through the recipes of delicacies but pans. The New-York-based artist has gone ahead to pay a scintillating tribute to the African culture that had penetrated in the then-nascent American roots to create the present vibrant set of cooking customs.


Cultures and traditions do not confine themselves to the land of their origin. They float around freely to erect some vibrant bits for the worldly souls. Their alluring amalgam shapes the lives and nature of practices dwelling within the earmarked frontiers. But only a few souls have the competence to acknowledge the beauty of multipolar facets of culture. Among them is Hugh Hayden. The artist has brought out the fact in the cooking domain.

The intersections of culture are gradually turning to light with many artists drawing a parallel between the cultural opulence. But Hugh stands out from them by extending the exploration spree to the domain of cooking. The New-York-based artist sees his souls bubble with the thought of grabbing the African links holding up the ‘great’ American culture.

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“The Cosby’s” Seasoned cast iron with steel hangers, 2020. 🥀 This Dan mask from the Ivory Coast is still my favorite. Its arguably the most ‘authentic’ one I’ve worked with…for me expressed in the lifelike energy carved into its lips and nose. It took 5 months for me to work up the courage to purchase it. I kinda wanted to use its likeness for every skillet. 🥀💥 Alas I made this triptych as an homage to the indelible cultural impact of the African diaspora on the creation of American entertainment, food, industry and society. 💥🥀 Originally intended to be on view in my now closed show, American Food, its now featured in @lisson_gallery online viewing room at Frieze.

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Working on the aspect, he chose to pick the cooking lanes as the subject. Bending his approach out the previous culinary fusions, he went ahead to catch the bits thriving in the cooking instruments. He started with the iron pans hanging and adorning the pantry areas around the cities.

He decided to pay tribute to the vibrant African culture bolstering the rise of American stars around the world. He settled down to embrace the sand casting technique using the granular substances as moulds to forge the out of the world iron skillets. He imbued the African cultural gems by making the pans take the shape of the tribal masks that make the heart of the age-old tradition reigning over the golden sands of Africa.

He went ahead to itch different kinds of gestures and expressions on the iron cooking pans. Repeating the process several times, he ended up creating 26 masks doning the theme to a great extent.

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American Food 12 March – 2 May 2020 27 Bell Street, London Opening: 11 March, 6 – 8pm Lisson Gallery is pleased to present Hugh Hayden’s first solo exhibition in the UK. It is also the first to directly engage with Hayden’s culinary installation practice, bringing together wooden picnic tables, cast-iron skillets, and a multimedia stove to reflect on the history and significance of cooking and dining together in America. Influenced by his background as an architect – in particular designing concepts for new restaurants – Hayden is interested in African cultural inflections on food, art and music. Hayden considers Southern cooking the first uniquely American cuisine, having originated in kitchens run by the enslaved cooks, who infused recipes with African tastes, ingredients and techniques. For the artist, Texas-born and New-York based, the African origins and contributions in the creation of America’s cuisine are equally embedded in the country’s cultural and economic development and lasting infrastructure. More specifically, Hayden is “interested in celebrating the indebtedness to African origins in the cooking – as a form of creation of America, Western culture and Modern Art”.

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For instance, “Jazz 10” (2020) (cast iron, 16 1/2 x 11 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches) is a pan with its bottom surface carrying a grinning face. The diamond-shaped brown cooking pan also possesses a handle to hang down.

“Jazz 19” (2020) (cast iron, 21 1/4 x 12 x 5 1/2 inches) refers to a round black pan with a grotesque face expression bulging out of its bottom.

Not just that, there are also colourful pans to woo the hearts of art lovers and cooks breathing different culture and cooking panache. Thus, there is enough to embellish the kitchen with the aroma of remarkable African culture and tradition. The pans indeed immortalize the contributions of the slaves in the engendering the formidable American culinary reputation.

Taking on the ‘The Cosby’s’, the artist shared, “I made this triptych as an homage to the indelible cultural impact of the African diaspora on the creation of American entertainment, food, industry, and society”.

Adding to that, he feels the pans reflect on “the imperfectness of the materials, their colonial histories, and the inherent loss of detail in the reproduction process”.

The iron-skillets are a part of the exhibition- ‘American Food’. According to a statement, it brings up “the indebtedness to African origins in the cooking—as a form of creation of America, Western culture, and Modern Art”.

Thus, much is brewing for the culinary stars.