New York-based artist Hugh Hayden (previously) visualizes the ways African traditions are embedded into multiple facets of American culture through a series of cast-iron skillets. Part of a larger exhibition titled American Food, the 26 pans are molded to reveal facial impressions that evoke West African-style masks, blending the cooking tool and cultural object.
Generally established by cooks who were enslaved, southern food includes many of the flavors, techniques, and ingredients prevalent in African cuisine, forming what Hayden sees as one of the foremost culinary traditions distinct to the United States. This direct impact is evident in the physical artworks—the expressive masks literally emerge from the pans—although it transcends the effects on the kitchen. As he writes about “The Cosby’s” (shown below) on Instagram, “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.”
Hayden creates the skillets through sand casting, a manufacturing technique that utilizes the granular substance as a mold, which the artist employs as a way to recognize “the imperfectness of the materials, their colonial histories, and the inherent loss of detail in the reproduction process.” He also parallels the sculpting process to the diaspora, considering how the original object is obscured and imbued with cultural significance when it’s finished. Ultimately, American Food celebrates “the indebtedness to African origins in the cooking—as a form of creation of America, Western culture, and Modern Art,” a statement says.