HOUSTON, TX.- Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
presents Nari Ward: We the People, the first museum survey in Texas of the work of artist Nari Ward (b. 1963, St. Andrew, Jamaica). The exhibition brings together works spanning Wards 25-year career.
Since the early 1990s, Ward has produced sculptures by accumulating staggering amounts of humble materials and repurposing them in surprising ways. His approach draws from a variety of art historical and folk traditions and reflects the textures of Harlem, where he has lived and worked for the past 25 years. Seeking out the personal and social narratives embedded in materials, he conceives of his sculptures as tools for articulating relationships between people. Over the past three decades, he has addressed topics such as historical memory, political and economic disenfranchisement, racism, and democracy in an effort to express both the tenuousness and the resilience of the artists Harlem communitya struggle that remains relatable in communities across the United States.
Ward first rose to prominence in the early 1990s after attending art school in New York, New York and participating in The Studio Museum in Harlems prestigious residency program. Upon completion of the program, Ward installed Amazing Grace (1993) in the deserted Harlem firehouse that is now his studio. In this installation, recreated at CAMH, viewers walk atop a pathway made of fire hoses nailed to the floor in a dimly lit space. The path is surrounded by rows of discarded baby strollers while Amazing Grace, sung by Mahalia Jackson, loops overhead. As with other early works, Ward created Amazing Grace from raw materials scavenged in his neighborhood. Accumulated and transformed, these materials evoke the physical and socioeconomic realities of Harlem in that time. More broadly, the work conveys a sense of presence and absence suggested through its patinas of use and abandonment and its engagement of spiritual content.
Wards burgeoning career as an artist also coincided with a proliferation of international group shows in the 1990s, many of which included his work. Owing to its explorations of historical patterns of migration and displacementparticularly those tied to chattel slaveryand the rhetorics of inclusion and exclusion that form this countrys foundation, Wards work was poised to address this global expansionism. With the increased policing of national borders today, Wards work gains further relevance.
Ward has long probed concepts of identity, displacement, and belonging through his sculpture. He moved to New York from Jamaica as a child, and his work frequently refers to the migratory and diasporic experiences so many United States citizens share. His participatory work Naturalization Drawing Table (2004) offers museum visitors an opportunity to experience a bureaucratic environment that mirrors the potentially intimidating process of applying for citizenship.
We the People (2011) is the namesake work of the exhibition. This familiar phrase is taken from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which describes the core values the Constitution exists to achieve: effective and democratic governance, justice, freedom, and equality. Ward spells this phrase out in Old English lettering outlined with thousands of multicolored shoelaces. In doing so, he raises a fundamental question: Who is we? Multiple answers emerge: we may be people fractured by divisive partisan politics, but we are also resilient, creative, and democratically engaged. Wards work demonstrates how a gatheringwhether of people or objectscan be a catalyst for transformation.
Nari Ward: We the People is organized by the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, New York, and is curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator; Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director; and Helga Christoffersen, Associate Curator. The exhibitions presentation at CAMH is coordinated by Dean Daderko, Curator.
Nari Ward received a BA from City University of New York, Hunter College in 1989, and an MFA from City University of New York, Brooklyn College in 1992. Selected solo exhibitions of his work include at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts (2017); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, New York (2017); The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2016); Pérez Art Museum, Miami, Florida (2015); Louisiana State University Museum of Art, Baton Rouge (2014); The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2011); Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams (2011); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2001, 2000). Selected group exhibitions featuring his work include Objects Like Us, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2018-19); UPTOWN: nastywomen/badhombres, El Museo del Barrio, New York, New York (2017); Black: Color, Material, Concept, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York (2015); The Great Mother, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy (2015); The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Illinois (2015); NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, New York (2013); Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Rotunda, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York (2010); 2006 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (2006); Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Texas (2005); Landings, Documenta XI, Kassel, Germany (2002); Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Projects: How to Build and Maintain the Virgin Fertility of Our Soul, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York; 1995 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; and Cardinal Points of the Arts, 45th Venice Biennial, Italy.