In Hugh Hayden's practice, he typically engages in a lot of laborious and handmade work. However, with his latest piece, he worked with Johnson Atelier to employ a more advanced technique that combines high-tech 3D technology with traditional woodworking methods. The boat, which is 14 feet long and dinghy-like in appearance, is made of oak and cedar. The oak is used for the hull, while the cedar is used for the skeletal, rib-like structure of the boat. The idea for the piece was initially inspired by Kerry James Marshall's painting, "The Gulf Stream," which depicts a boat of people of African descent enjoying a leisurely time, a depiction that is not typically associated with black individuals on the water. The piece is also influenced by Winslow Homer's painting, "The Gulf Stream," which shows a black man in a dinghy with a broken mast and sharks in the water, an abolitionist gesture.
Hayden reimagined art history by blending these influences with his interest in creating anthropomorphic objects, such as skeletons, to enable viewers to see things differently. The result is a new narrative that references people on the water beyond the slave trade and an object that challenges viewers to see it as both a boat and a creature.
Hugh Hayden created this piece for Black Atlantic, an exhibition at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, which he also co-curated.