Nari Ward is known for his sculptural installations composed of discarded material found and collected in his neighborhood. He has repurposed objects such as baby strollers, shopping carts, bottles, doors, television sets, cash registers, and shoelaces, among other materials. Ward recontextualizes these found objects in thought- provoking juxtapositions that create complex, metaphorical meanings to confront social and political issues surrounding race, poverty, and consumer culture. He intentionally leaves the meaning of his work open, allowing the viewer to provide their own interpretation.
One of his most iconic works, Amazing Grace, was produced as part of his 1993 residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in response to the AIDS crisis and drug epidemic. For this large-scale installation, Ward gathered more than 365 discarded baby strollers—commonly used by the homeless population in Harlem to transport their belongings—which he bound with twisted fire hoses in an abandoned fire station in Harlem. Echoing through the space was an audio recording of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s “Amazing Grace” on repeat. The lyrics speak about redemption and change, generating optimism and a sense of hope. As with most of his work, this installation explored themes informed by the materials, community, and location in which he was working. The work has since been recreated at the New Museum Studio 231 space in 2013, and in several locations across Europe. With each change of context, the significance of the work changes as each community associates differently with these found objects.
Solo exhibitions of Ward’s work have been organized at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Socrates Sculpture Park, New York; The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia; Pérez Art Museum Miami; Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia; Louisiana State University Museum of Art, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Ward’s work is in numerous international public and private collections, including Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Istanbul Modern; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; Pérez Art Museum Miami; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency