The exhibition We the People highlights recent, prominent installations and sculptural works by Nari Ward, who is a current artist-in-residence at The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM). Nari Ward examines contemporary issues that include citizenship, cultural consumption, discrimination, and poverty, which reflects his experiences and observations growing up in Jamaica and his working life as an artist in Harlem. Composed of material collected from his urban neighborhood and the discards of consumerism, Ward’s art reveals the diverse emotions—from treasured to unwanted—inherent in everyday objects, serving as a link to personal connections and the ambiguity of language. His work helps to develop a viewer’s awareness and understanding of social themes, through wordplay as well as juxtapositions of technology and other found objects.
Nari Ward’s debut of his installation made in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, also named We the People, transcribes the opening phrase of the United States Constitution on the museum wall using hand-dyed shoelaces. These key words “We the People” become powerful clichés, as Ward believes that it is not possible to make these words his because of their strong association to the Constitution. Ward is, however, able to “reclaim” these words by integrating the shoelaces into the text, as a hybrid material, revolutionizing the viewer’s reaction through the magnitude of the arrangement and adaptation of the piece.
Nari Ward uses the stars and stripes of the American flag as emblematic elements in Glory (2004) for his oil barrel “tanning bed,” which could theoretically imprint these images on one’s body. The stars and stripes signify the strong support and unified emotions that occurred post-9/11 when a flag waving American people showed their solidarity in their pledge to end terrorism. The oil barrel, with its coffin-like connotations, represents America’s obsession with the Middle East and the oversimplification in the media, implying that one was unpatriotic if he or she were against the war. The stanchions are placed in a non-linear path symbolizing the process of becoming a citizen, during which one always has the fear of being deported. Its ropes are hung with star-patterned towels—displaying variations of the five-pointed star made of tar that is “burned” into the fabric—guiding the viewer to the “tanning bed.” The experience viewing the work becomes less somber and more “real” by Ward’s addition of humor, a parrot speaking English and whistling, taken from playing a CD of “How to Teach a Parrot to Talk.” Ward states, “Glory is not sad, it is not happy; it fluctuates and borders on kitsch.” The material, symbolic, emotional, and historical references in Glory create a broad range of interesting and inventive elements that can be explored and contemplated.