Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Nari Ward: We The People

Nari Ward weaves together collections of found objects into abstract narratives of the personal, power, and injustice in the New Museum’s 25-year retrospective Nari Ward: We The People. Ward, who began his career in the early 1990’s Harlem, primarily employing large sculpture/installation composed of materials sourced in his neighborhood, denoting a sense of time, place, and power, that affects individual
‘s as well as their community.  
The titular work We The People (2011) consists of holes drilled directly into the wall forming the words “We The People” (in the same script used in the Constitution).  A variety of shoelaces hang from these holes forming a strange vinery. The words of the Constitution in correlation with the multitude of shoe strings seems to indicate the many individuals that these words should represent, despite its original context of exclusivity of any non-white male property owner.  

Ward’sIron Heaven’s (1995) is a collection of charred wooden baseball bats, which fractures are dressed in cotton, and leaning against a wall of oven pans. The bats, scorched appearance and tiered structure is reminiscent of the remains of a large bonfire.  Violence is implicit in the destruction of the objects use and history. While the oven pans are individually too small to have been the instruments that burnt the bats, their histories have become linked by fire. 

The massive installation, Amazing Grace(1993), takes up one large gallery. Consisting of hundreds of discarded strollers facing towards the interior of the space, a path made of flattened fire hoses threads around the strollers forming a shape that resembles the hull of a ship. Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of Amazing Grace plays in the low-lit room.  The piece flattens time, bringing together symbols and material reality of an ongoing struggle against a history of oppression. From the Middle Passage to mass incarceration, the absence in the strollers tells the unfathomable American story of perpetual loss by continued systematic injustices. 
We The People, 2011
Iron Heaven’s, 1995
Amazing Grace, 1993


  1. Nari Ward’s show was very impressive to mee too. His massive installation, Amazing Grace (1993), was my favorite. I love your expression of the shape of the installation as a teardrop shape. Nari Ward's work was about mostly A sense of history, violence and loss like you said. Even though it is a totally different background and history with Korea, Interestingly, when I went to see the show with my father, his first reaction was "The song reminds me of 'Arirang.'" Arirang is the national folk song of Korea. It is very impressive that we all feel a sense of history and can get touched by the work generally without thinking about the different countries and different background.

  2. I appreciate your breakdown of the show and focus on a few of the important/standout pieces. The way you describe Iron Heaven’s is brings a very visceral response. I hadn’t thought about the shoelaces hanging from We The People, I wonder if they have a correlation with sneakers hanging from power and phone lines denoting the passing of someone - a life lived and spent, often too abruptly. I also really liked the last line of your review. It is easy to look at the strollers and think of them as used objects but viewing them as lives lost or gone awry fills me with melancholy. Great review.