For the first time in his career, Hugh Hayden will take on the dual role of artist and co-curator to realize the group exhibition Black Atlantic. The exhibition—which brings together the international voices of artists Leilah Babirye, Hugh Hayden, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis, and Kiyan Williams—will be on view from May to November 2022 throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is located on a historic port leading to the Atlantic Ocean. Hayden titled the exhibition Black Atlantic, after the book by Paul Gilroy, to highlight the complex hybrid identities that have developed through the exchange of culture and ideas over centuries along transatlantic networks linking Africa, the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The five artists share a commitment to material exploration, a fusion of the contemporary with the historical, and processes of making and fabrication that include working by hand. For Black Atlantic, they have been commissioned to create new site-responsive works that speak to the exhibition theme. Their wide-ranging responses—both materially and conceptually—create an exchange of ideas among artists of a similar generation that proposes an open, multifaceted, and heterogeneous idea of Black identity in the United States today.
Black Atlantic is co-curated by artist Hugh Hayden and Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer.
Leilah Babirye (b. 1985, Kampala, Uganda; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) presents two new groups of monumental wood sculptures in white pine. She carved these figurative forms by hand and chainsaw, drawing on her training in traditional African techniques. Babirye has embellished them by burning, burnishing, and adorning them with welded metal and found discarded materials in ways that transform the refuse into something spectacular, showing its intrinsic value. These sculptures, which she calls “trans queens,” are intended to “stand proud as beacons of freedom that welcome an international LGBTQ+ community.”
Hugh Hayden (b. 1983, Dallas, TX; lives and works in New York, NY) conceived this exhibition and has also contributed this surreal artwork to Black Atlantic. Hayden has combined a clinker-built boat hull exterior with a whale like skeletal interior to create this empty vessel washed ashore. The form and “Gulf Stream” title simultaneously reference and “remix” an 1899 painting by Winslow Homer of a lone Black figure in dire circumstances on a wrecked boat at sea and Kerry James Marshall’s 2003 reinterpretation that has transformed the scene to one of leisure. Hayden sees his Gulf Stream sculpture as “both a boat and a body, whose unknown passengers may have made it to safety or have been swallowed by the sea.”
Dozie Kanu (b. 1993, Houston, TX; lives and works in Santarém, Portugal) has created an ensemble of surreal objects that highlights the tensions between public and private aspects of the self. A vessel of black liquid that pulses at the rate of a human heartbeat and a chaise longue chair (typically associated with psychoanalysis) cast in concrete evoke self-reflection and also the murky depths of the individual and collective unconscious. The sofa’s “Texan Wire Wheels” rims (also referred to as “elbows” or “swangas”) reference the vibrant automobile “SLAB culture” of the artist’s native Houston. He describes the customization of cars within this tradition as a “free and playful fashioning of one’s own material property – gestures that I find deeply complex and layered given the relationship that Black Americans continue to navigate between ownership and agency.”
Tau Lewis (b. 1993, Toronto, Canada; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) was inspired to make these three six-foot diameter cast iron sculptures by her “years of fascination with crinoids,” a family of marine creatures that includes starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and their prehistoric ancestors. These animals each have stacked disc-shaped stems with unique designs. Their five-pointed symmetry is reflected in Lewis’s sculptures, with repeated patterns that incorporate West African Adinkra symbols. The artist’s castings “ruminate on the wandering of these ancient animals, the global dispersal of their fossilized bodies, and their coexistence with Black bodies above and below the Atlantic and throughout the diaspora.”
Kiyan Williams (b. 1991, Newark, NJ; lives and works in New York, NY) envisions the “ruins of empire” by reimagining an iconic symbol of American values, The Statue of Freedom. The bronze monument designed by Thomas Crawford has stood atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. since 1863 (a structure built using enslaved labor). The soil surface of the artist’s adaptation makes the sculpture appear to be in a state of decomposition and decay, “embodying how American ideals of freedom are tied to subjugation, drawing inspiration from sci-fi tropes of a destroyed monument like the Statue of Liberty as a symbol for a world ruined by environmental devastation.”
On permanent display atop 334 Furman Street is Tom Fruin’s Watertower. See this amazing installation from the Pier 5 Uplands and near Pier 5 in the Park, or from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
There is no public access to the installation or the roof of the building.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is accessible by several subway lines (A/C, 2/3, 4/5, F, R) and bus routes (B25, B61, B63, B67). Visitors can also arrive via the NYC Ferry at Fulton Ferry Landing and Pier 6. For Access-a-Ride access to Pier 1, please use the address 1 Water Street (corner of Old Fulton and Water Street). To enter the southern end of the park, please use the address 360 Furman Street and exit on the west side of the building.
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Generally, permits are required if you want to: bring a group larger than 20 people into the Park; have a wedding ceremony; film of photograph for professional/commercial purposes; or, have dedicated access to a sports field/court. This list is not exclusive or exhaustive.
Please review the Permits section for more information on when a permit is needed and how to apply for one. Submitting an application does not guarantee you will be granted a permit. Your application is not approved until you have received a permit from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Applications may take up to 21 days to process after they have been submitted.