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Artist Bio

Nari Ward

PRESS

Museum Magazine

August 31, 2017

PRESS

Artnet

May 18, 2017

PRESS

The New York Times

January 27, 2017

News

The New York Times

July 8 2016

News

Nari Ward brings Mango Tourists and other exotics to the Barnes Foundation The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 25 2016

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Nari Ward: The story behind an artwork in the artist's own words Modern Painters

June 1 2016

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Sculpture Finds a Parking Space on the High Line Wall Street Journal

April 30 2016

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Sculpture Finds a Parking Space on the High Line Wall Street Journal

April 27 2016

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An Artist and a Poet Capture Death in a Hospice Room T Magazine

April 16 2016

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A Sense of Placeness High Line Magazine

April 14 2016

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Homegrown philanthropy fuels the new Speed Art Museum The Art Newspaper

March 10 2016

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Video: Nari Ward show at Pérez Art Museum Miami Miami Herald

February 21 2016

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The Historical and Fictional Worlds of Nari Ward Hyperallergic

February 11 2016

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Nari Ward with Nicole Smythe-Johnson Miami Rail

December 12 2015

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Nari Ward’s found object sculptures explore history and power Financial Times

December 4 2015

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Book Signing with Nari Ward Pérez Art Museum Miami

December 3 2015

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Nari Ward Looks Back at Two Decades of Work in "Sun Splashed" at PAMM

November 28 2015

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Art Basel Week 2015 Guide: At the Museums Miami Herald

November 26 2015

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In 'Breathing Directions,' Nari Ward Gathers Layers of African-American History New York Times

October 30 2015

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Nari Ward at Lehmann Maupin Art in America

October 30 2015

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25 Most Collectable Midcareer Artists: Nari Ward Artnet

September 30 2015

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See: Nari Ward's Breathing Directions New York Magazine

September 26 2015

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Timeless Symbols Pack Nari Ward’s Sculptures with Meaning The Creators Project

September 24 2015

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Nari Ward BOMB Magazine

September 17 2015

News

Nari Ward: Breathing Directions at Lehmann Maupin Elephant Magazine

September 16 2015

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Forbes

March 27, 2015

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Forbes

March 25, 2015

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Forbes

March 24, 2015

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Design & Trend

March 10, 2015

News

Nari Ward’s "Divination X" to Grace Gardner Museum Façade Boston Magazine

January 5 2015

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Artnet News

June 9, 2014

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Sculpture Magazine

June 2013

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Frieze

May 2013

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Mousse Magazine Nari Ward interviewed by Anna Daneri

April 2013

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New York Times Review 'NYC 1993' Exhibition at New Museum

February 14, 2013

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The New York Times

February 14, 2013

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Whitewall Magazine Installation View: Nari Ward's 1993

February 1, 2013

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Whitewall

February 1, 2013

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New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York Nari Ward: Amazing Grace

January 17 - April 21, 2013

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The Wall Street Journal

January 16, 2013

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ARTnews

January 2013

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The Brooklyn Rail

April 30, 2012

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New York Observer

April 27, 2012

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Huffington Post

April 8, 2012

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Nari Ward Receives Rome Prize

April 2012

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Designboom

March 31, 2012

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Artinfo

March 27, 2012

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Modern Painters

January 31, 2012

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Philadelphia Weekly

November 2, 2011

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International Review of African American Art

November 30, 2010

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ARTnews

April 30, 2010

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Art in America

April 30, 2010

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Artforum

April 30, 2010

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The New York Times

April 2, 2010

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Frieze

December 31, 2008

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The New Yorker

November 24, 2008

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The New York Times

August 24, 2007

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Sculpture

March 31, 2006

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Sculpture

April 30, 2005

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Art in America

November 30, 2004

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V Magazine

December 31, 2001

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The New York Times

August 6, 2000

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The Observer

October 27, 1997

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The New York Times

August 10, 1997

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The Village Voice

October 9, 1996

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Flash Art

September 30, 1996

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Elle

June 30, 1995

Forbes


In the Studio: Nari Ward Part I
By Courtney Willis Blair

Dramatic, sculptural installations that transform collected mundane materials into works examining race, poverty, consumer culture, and materiality have become synonymous with the Jamaican-born, Uptown-based Nari Ward’s practice. His exhibition currently on view at SCAD will be followed by a major survey at Perez Art Museum Miami later this year (the exhibition, Sun Splashed, received a grant of $100,000 from The Andy Warhol Foundation back in February) and comes off the heals at his solo exhibition at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art last year.


Other highlights? His MASS MoCA show and his inclusion in the 2006 Whitney Biennale, Prospect 1, and Documenta XI. Not to mention his laundry list of awards, including the Rome Prize and an NEA award. There’s no question why my interview with Ward lasted for more than an hour.


So, here’s part two. Again, this interview has been edited for clarity and flow.


In thinking about your career so far and seeing the way you transform materials or find materials and see them in a different way and can create these very fantastic, dramatic sculptural pieces, I’m wondering where your eye comes from. How was it honed? Did it start in the way you were collecting things in the way you were developing through your practice or in what you were collecting from a personal perspective, what was interesting to you?

I teach at university and the first thing I say in my class the first day is I’m really not good at any one thing. I don’t really know how to weld. I don’t know how to do carpentry. I’m not good at any particular thing, but I’m really good at making it work. There is a so-called Third World mindset of recombination and there’s also this notion of not specializing. This idea of a capitalist model, an assembly line, you specialize. But if you look at Third World countries, you can’t specialize; you’d die. You have to learn how to do everything. I like this notion of innovating, because you have to figure it out.


I’m also very distrustful of the history, of the way it’s been told. In one way it also informs the fact that I don’t take anything for granted. Something that is brand-new and shiny can be juxtaposed with something that is really funky and still make sense. I think that idea of not creating this normal hierarchy of expectation from something is something I really try to consider from the very beginning. There’s no one thing that’s better than the other, it’s all the same element of material. They all have a kind of energy. How do you take that visual energy and appeal it to something invisible? It’s all about taking the stuff and evoking presence. That’s the thing that’s the hardest. It’s never about going for the thing you’re going for. When I have an idea for something I know that’s not what I really want. It’s really about what it shadows that I’m trying to conjure, trying to make sure that that thing is generous enough that the shadow is there for the viewer and for them to think about it and really feel it’s presence. That’s the hard part.


The easy part is the material stuff, you know? Weaving and make it transform and conceal and reveal. That’s an easy, maybe even craft thing, but then it’s also about how can that thing then have this presence that makes it seem to belong to another realm. That other realm is the creative space but it’s also the space of the everyday and the space of a ritual making. It’s also the space of connecting with somebody in a very unrealized way. There’s no way to define it. I always say that if I weren’t a visual artist, I would be a musician. I’m always envious of musicians because they were always able to touch you in ways that you can’t control.


Right, that is not tangible.

There’s a kind of rhythmic, sonic thing I think about when I’m making the work. How could this rhythm, how could this energy touch somebody without them becoming bogged down in it. It’s in service of, which is really important.


If that’s something that you see throughout your object making and conceptually throughout your practice, what sort of ideas are new today that either branch off from that notion or I guess what are you thinking of lately?

There’s nothing new. I think it was Bruce Lee that said something like “human beings only have two legs and two arms, so there’s only so much that you can come up with.” He was talking about martial arts. He’s basically saying this is it. Now, within this structure we have to figure out how things are reoriented and how things become expressed in different ways. I think one of the things that is interesting for me is the sense of alienation, this combination of feeling alienated and connected that you get from new-media or a digital experience of being online. I find that’s the most challenging reality and it’s a new reality. I mean we may have gotten closer to it maybe in a kind of religious context, you know, this sense of feeling part of the group but then feeling totally in your own reality.

I really am inspired by that kind of disembodiment and figuring out the need for a physical plane that declares and questions that relationship. I almost feel like the more pervasive the interest in virtual reality, the more we need to ground people in a medium of materiality, an element of time and texture and relationship to the body. Not even a relationship to the body where you can manipulate, because that’s the problem with this digital dialogue. There is this set of rules that folks can create a series of relationships, a kind of paradigm. But when in the real world, the element of chance is so much more possible. There’s a kind of remixing that happens there, and they call it a chance but it isn’t chance. Chance is really like when you’re going around the corner and you’re not sure what you’re going to see. I don’t think it ever really happens in a digital realm. You trust that everything you see has been made. That bigger question of “how do I belong?” is always the subtext in the real world. In the digital world, I belong because somebody made it for it. That’s the real frontier, trying to figure out how to pushback from that.

It makes me even think more about how objects become necessary because another component of the digital mind space is disposability: disposability of words, disposability of relationships, disposability of objects. Something as simple as I remember getting a tool and these hammers become special. Everything gets handed down. Now a computer you don’t hand down, you get rid of it. You move on. There’s a whole reconditioning that happens that I feel like we’re losing something. We’re sacrificing something. We’re gaining this notion of information without body, but I think body is really essential to how we relate to ourselves and even how we relate to each other. I don’t want to lose that.

 

Speaking of the materiality of the non-digital world versus the digital world, there’s a trend or movement right now with post-Internet art, where to your point there’s this idea that a sort of intellectualism is given more weight then an object is given. The idea that you can get rid of these things and they don’t really matter because that’s not what the value in this work is. Especially for someone who works with found objects and materials and things that have stories and histories, how does it relate? When I think of oral histories or rituals or other things that have value that are passed down but no longer have that idea of physical body, which I think finds itself in your work in a way.

I’m always thinking about the body and time and the body’s relationship to experiential time. That’s why I’m always curious as to how I can think about this disembodied space that this Internet pushes or maybe how to push back from it or how to layer up the physicality in a work. At the same time, the idea is to layer it but to layer in the service of something else. That’s the key thing, that it doesn’t just become a “Oh, I know what that is.” Yeah, it’s that but there are other things that are suspended. I think that’s the thing. If I can make something suspended that is not grounded in any particular moment then I feel like it becomes that much more hard to define and to place. It also may have a different resonance with the viewer’s experience. It’s kind of portable in that respect.


I had just done this work [Editor's note: Ward is referring to , a sculpture in his studio that incorporates found shoes and rubber], and I was thinking about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It’s a great book and it’s really about power and control. I was trying to articulate this notion of a mass of people who are kind of like tumbleweed. They’re kind of just floating. I decided on this kind of tumbleweed presence and talk about vulnerability and this weird sense of the strange community that’s insulated. At the same time, I don’t only want it to be about that. I also wanted it to be ridiculous and playful and all these other things. Whenever I get too heavy, I’m like “Okay, Nari pull it back,” because sometimes you shoot yourself in the foot. It may really be intense and you’re excited to talk about this issue and you’re anxious about an issue and you really want to express it, but in the act of communicating it, you pull people out. How do you keep them suspended and thinking about it? So it doesn’t commit to anything. Yeah, there’s some joy here but it’s weirdly tied up. It’s knotted, but then you can push it around. At the same time it could be a bomb. There are all these facets that it hits on. The more sprockets these things have for me, the more exciting because the more things I can touch.
 

You said something really poignant earlier about the idea of disposability and the idea that the object helps us figure out how we think about ourselves and how we relate to our own bodies. You bringing up now The New Jim Crow and I think about this idea of disposability and people and how we dehumanize, do you think that is directly related to what’s happening now in terms of the technology advancing at the pace that it’s advancing. In the way that we’re looking at it now, do you think that there’s sort of a direct correlation?

We’re running into this strange moment that the atomic bomb was brought about. The inventor of the Gatling gun was actually a doctor. Somebody was asking him why he would make this gun. It was so violent. He said something to the effect that he wanted them to see how terrible war is and how violent and in seeing that maybe help people would rely more on peace. This is how he made sense of it. Whether it was true, I mean profit was somewhere in there too, right? I thought it was really interesting, this idea that this sense of violence would bring peace. It was also the same as when dropping the atomic bomb. There is something about this idea of force, this kind of self-destruction that we are drawn to and at the same time there’s a logic in this that knows how far to go. I think we’re at this really interesting moment of disembodiment. What I’m getting at is this drone thing. Technology is allowing us to negate and turn away from things that are happening. It’s becoming the strange thing that’s happening somewhere else. I think when you study these things [soldiers are] affected by it. There’s something about our humanity. We may not be watching this person bleed but we know what’s going on and that knowing has affected us. There’s a kind of morality that happens. I think that’s grounded in materials. Something that we know about materials and how it relates to us, not just to our bodies but also how it relates to our senses and our sense of who we are, that I feel like we’re not entirely understanding. I think that there’s ways to conjure it. You know it you know it when you feel it in a. Those things I think are still very basic. I think there’s a lot for us to learn from our bodies that were not entirely secure in and understanding.

It’s these very direct disconnects that are interesting…

And dangerous.

The way your work looks to make those reconnections is compelling.

I beat myself up for this, “Nari, you always have to think about educating people. Why can’t you make some beautiful colors on the wall and walk away?” I feel like I can do that but I really feel like art can do something so much more because it’s not language-based. It is a kind of visual channel for addressing emotions. That visual channel I feel is still very young. There are still a lot of things that can come out of it. The interesting thing is that I feel like we’re molded by technology. That molding reflects how we perceive the world. How we perceive the world is always going to be updated as it evolves, so we need these things to help us understand what our feelings are doing. We don’t want to turn that over to marketers. One of my other possible careers would have been to go into advertising because I’m always really envious of how mischievous they are and how kind of sneaky they are and how much control they have. Advertisers want to sell you something but I don’t really want to sell you anything. I want you to sort of understand about yourself. If I could use the tools that they use and push it to the service of somebody understanding something about themselves in a very deep way, that’s pretty good.


Advertising is certainly manipulative and seductive.
 

Seduction is key. I like this kind of need that they sell, desire, maybe even insecurity. That’s all powerful stuff you know.
 

And that’s a visual code.


Right.


When you think about what you want people to know about themselves is it a matter of challenging them to ask questions?
 

Yes, exactly. I always say that I’m not here to answer anything. It’s really about raising questions that are probably there anyway but don’t really need to be raised in normal life. They know something is strange or something is wrong or something is off and it’s just about pointing to it. Then when somebody points to it, I think there is an acknowledgment that you know, also.


Right, so it instigates this dialogue.
 

Something starts to evolve. That’s why to get back to technology it becomes too easy to sort of break into little camps. I think part of it is really great and empowering but some of it is problematic because you never really get to anything. You never get to evolve. You get to pot off, but there’s no real sense of evolution, there’s no real leveling field. I kind of see that in the Occupy Movement. There was this really interesting momentum and you want to see it build and build and then folks figured it out, the power structure.

Is that a symptom of America?
 

I think it’s a symptom of technology. We are really super engaged and then it’s like “Oh, I got to go.”
 

When we think of urban materials and the sort of hierarchy, giving everything the same value, I think that could be applied to a lot of different things. When you look at your work and you see one material being considered the same as another, that’s a very strong and simple idea.


All of this is really about letting people reconsider what they know. That’s the biggest problem that people fall into this default mode in judgment and consideration or maybe even, which is kind of Darwinian, just going with all this information the media has gathered without following up with the real experiential part. That’s how we inform ourselves. The more inquiry we have on a basic level, the more we exercise our ability to critique how are processing or how are looking at things. I think that kind of building of a filter for that is really important but it’s not taught. I think it’s taught in art school to some extent. I teach in the university and they’re more interested in the market then really trying to deconstruct the ideas of what people are experiencing.

Well, it’s certainly taught to value things above other things. It’s taught to fear things above other things and to put things into certain categories, which is inherently dangerous.


The most I can possibly offer from my work is to throw off expectations. For a moment, suspend their normal way of relating to something or thinking about something. I don’t want to say confusion because I think confusion means [the viewer] doesn’t know what they’re looking at. I think there’s knowing what you’re looking at and then seeing it being altered for another purpose. It’s a kind of reeducation.


Part I, Part III