Nari Ward creates artwork that investigates issues of identity and social inclusion, with particular attention to citizenship, immigration, and American history. He works primarily with discarded materials found in the urban landscape—shopping carts, shoelaces, plastic bottles, car tires—imbuing these objects with new meaning in his work. He states: “I get inspired by things that don’t fit in. I find an object that speaks to me, and there’s always something out of place about it.” Cleverly manipulating these found materials, Ward balances humor and heavier subject matter in his work.
The three sculptures on view at deCordova were originally part of a major outdoor exhibition titled Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again at Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, in 2016. For this project, Ward created a series of concrete casts of goat-shaped lawn ornaments, commenting on the irony of inserting human-made, decorative elements to enhance or beautify the natural landscape. The acronym G.O.A.T. in the title stands for “Greatest of All Time,” a phrase associated with icons of sports and music, such as boxer Muhammad Ali and musical artist LL Cool J. Using the phrase to allude to broader concerns of American nationalism and economic injustice, Ward explains: “I really wanted to talk about power and about hubris, about a kind of misguided investment. This goat character kind of became my doorway into it.”
The goat has various cultural and religious implications. An animal commonly associated with sacrifice, it can symbolize fertility, independence, as well as lust or deviance. Ward states: “I remember this great, beautiful image of goats that had climbed a tree. They’re really interesting animals, in their sense of community—but they’re sacrificial animals as well. They’re resourceful, but also really adventurous.” Ward festooned each of his G.O.A.T. sculptures with urban debris, such as electrical wire, fire hoses, and old sneakers, attaching the found materials to lengths of rebar extending from the animal’s back. The artist notes that in his birth-country, Jamaica, houses are often left with exposed rebar on their roofs to allow for future generations to build additional floors. While Ward incorporates this symbol of growth and possibility into his sculptures, there is also a sense of weight and burden indicated by the objects the animals carry.
Born in St. Andrews, Jamaica, in 1963, Ward currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He earned a BA from Hunter College in 1989 and an MFA from Brooklyn College in 1992. Recent solo exhibitions include Nari Ward: Sun Splashed at the Perez Art Museum, Miami, Florida, which travelled to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. G.O.A.T., again debuted at the Socrates Sculpture Park on Long Island and was the institution’s first solo exhibition. Ward has received honors such as the Vilcek Prize for immigrant artists in 2017, Joyce Award in 2015, and Rome Prize in 2012. His work is in the permanent collections of museums such as the Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.