by Lauren Raziano, Social Media Editor
As the Director of the Multicultural Center and a prize-winning, fine art photographer, Hayden Greene has many talents.
Currently, Greene has pieces on display in the O’Malley library from his three collections: “Magritte Reimagined,” “Wanderlust” and “By Any Mean Essential.” Greene’s chosen medium is photography because he says with photos, he is able to capture the world as art around him.
“I always say that photographers have the best life because we look at the whole world as a series of photographs, and so we’re always looking for the next beautiful photograph, the next great scene,” Greene said. “We’re always thinking in the mindset of art and I recreate that by carrying a camera with me everywhere that I go.”
Green’s inspiration for one of the featured collections, “The Magritte Reimagined,” is from the surrealist painter Rene Magritte, but with a twist. When Greene was researching Magritte, he recognized that it lacked characteristics that he related to.
“I had the idea to recreate the ‘Son of Man’ picture which is the one with the apple in front of the mouth with the bowler hat. And I was like you know what I’m gonna do it with,” Greene said. “I’m gonna do it with my face and I’m gonna use a camera instead of an apple because I’m a photographer, and they just hit me. I was like, ‘What if I recreated a bunch of his work?’.”
Instead of white subjects, the subjects in Greene’s artwork are members of historically Black fraternities and sororities and instead of random inanimate objects, he replaced them with cameras.
“I started digging deeper into his work, and finding out which pictures would translate well into photography, and use those,” Greene said. “I was very intentional about replacing his inanimate objects with classic cameras, but also replacing his subjects with people of color and people who, ironically, all of them are part of historically Black fraternities and sororities.”
Greene’s “Wanderlust” pieces stem from inspiration from traveling for professional organizations and with his family. He focuses on the perspective of travelling as a Black man and the perspective of others.
“I also travel a lot for work and for professional organizations and speaking engagements and performing,” Greene said. “So, a lot of times I’m in a number of different places and traveling looks different for somebody who is Black and Brown in this country and throughout the world. Different things happen to you, and different levels of access are afforded to you and so one of the things I wanted to do was translate that into my photography.”
Within “Wanderlust” and “By Any Mean Essential,” Greene wants to capture the moments and scenes that aren’t published in the glossy magazine pages.
“I’m looking for those common themes that don’t always make it in the travel magazines.” Greene said.
“When people come to New York City, they take a photo of Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, a picture of the Empire State Building. But my photography of New York City is very gritty. It shows the real people who live in the city who interact with the city day to day, whether it’s on the subway or independent markets, or just going about their day to day life. I know that that’s my existence, a hugely photographed city that you don’t always see.” Greene said.
The project “By Any Mean Essential” was inspired by the events during the pandemic, from discussions about racial inequality and essential workers.
“By Any Means Necessary” piece is a take on Malcolm X’s famous pose ‘By any means necessary.’ When the pandemic came around a lot of people got thrust into essential roles, and would as they didn’t know themselves to be prior to that, and a lot of those but a lot of those people were black and brown people, and they kept the city afloat, and I wanted to do something to really honor them, and that’s my homage to those people,” Greene said.
Greene’s goal is to one day see his artwork featured in hotel lobbies and have others connect with his art.
“I want to be able to, to celebrate the stories that I’m telling during the time that I’m living and be able to answer questions, because you know you always say, ‘Man, I wish I could ask Picasso what he was thinking about during this time,’ and you can’t do that now, but you can do that for living artists who are producing really amazing work,” Greene said.
Amy Handfield, the Assistant Director of the Library for Access Services, is responsible for Greene’s work being displayed in the O’Malley Library. Handfield noticed Greene’s work in a physical exhibition in Kelly Commons and a virtual presentation last year.
“I was struck by the quality of the work and approached Greene about the possibility of exhibiting his work in the Library,” Handfield wrote in an email to the Quadrangle. “Perhaps the most arresting element of Greene’s art is his reenvisioning of the Surrealist tradition through an African-American lens. The ‘By Any Means Essential’ series is an excellent example of this characteristic of Grene’s work. The work is pertinent, timely, and a highly welcomed addition to the O’Malley Library’s bustling lobby gallery for the Fall 2021 semester.”
Marisa Lerer, associate professor of art history & digital media art, wrote in an email to the Quadrangle about her interpretation of Greene’s exhibition.
“It’s a thought-provoking critique of the history of art and image production,” Lerer wrote. “Hayden Greene’s strategy of appropriating art historical objects such as surrealist Rene Magritte’s paintings and inserting people of color into his own remixed photograph calls attention to the lack of presence of people of color in canonical works. Greene is part of a critical dialogue that other contemporary artists engage in such as Kehinde Wiley and Titus Kaphar.”
When asked about what impact she hopes students, faculty and staff take away from the exhibition, she emphasized how Greene’s art focuses on the importance of perspective and history.
“I hope they see the impact that photography as a medium can have on shifting perspectives and the importance of connecting our past with our present through honoring historic leaders such as Malcolm X and contemporary leaders such as essential workers,” Lerer wrote.
Joe Hale is a senior communications major who has a passion for photography and displays it on his Instagram. Hale supports Manhattan College’s initiative to display the art of local NYC creators.
“I think it’s really great to have an art exhibit on campus. There are so many great artists in NYC, covering a diverse range of topics. I saw another exhibit while walking by Van Cortlandt Stadium the other day as well. By putting these exhibits around, especially someone from MC, it is great to show off how talented students and staff are,” Hale wrote in an exchange with The Quadrangle.
Hale enjoyed how Greene’s art is more symbolic than conventional photography.
“I find it really interesting how Dr Greene took a bit more of an abstract approach than more traditional photography. It works quite effectively though, and shows art can come in many forms, rather than just one,” Hale wrote.
Finally, Greene said, “I think that my take on art and my take on photography is giving people a window into the lives of people of the global majority and giving them an opportunity to showcase a differentiated view.”
Handfield’s goal is to celebrate artists and in the future the lobby gallery may feature the up-and-coming creators we have within our own community.
Handfield wrote, “The current mission of the Library’s lobby gallery is to showcase the work of artists within the Manhattan College community. While the college is small, there is a surprising number of talented artists here. Hayden Greene is one of them and the Library is thrilled to showcase his work.”