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Arts Desk

Nari Ward: Using Art to Express Identity and Foster Empathy

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Nari Ward: Sun Splashed, 2016. Installation image. ©The Barnes Foundation "

A two-decade survey of works by Jamaican-born, Harlem-based artist Nari Ward includes found objects, and expresses the complexity of cultural identity. Sun Splashed is now at The Barnes Foundation through August 22nd.

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Nari Ward talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about his work with found objects, using art to explore different ways of seeing familiar objects and people, and to foster empathy.

Radio script:

Through art, you get to realize something else about yourself through something that isn't you, isn't part of you. It's a basic component, but it's so important for thinking about the world. - Nari Ward

Susan Lewis: Dressed in a pink shirt and straw hat, like a musician in a mento band, the artist poses in a photograph, next to a large house plant; but oddly, both have just been watered.   

Nari Ward:  I liked the mystery this character had and how displaced...

SL: Jamaican Artist Nari Ward moved to New York in his early teens.

NW: The reason why I honed in on the houseplant is this idea of not having roots, but being in a place that’s  not necessarily endemic to your origin—at the same time fragile but still resilient and surviving.

SL: Mystery and transformation figure prominently in Ward’s work: foam, old battery canisters and mango seeds become towering snowmen-shaped sculptures called Mango Tourists; oven pans and scorched baseball bats become a giant shining mural called Iron Heavens. A frequent medium? Found objects on the street.

NW: Primarily because I want to figure out how to have a conversation with the viewer... They think they know this thing.. my job is to take them on a journey with it, and maybe take them into a space they don’t know, and see the thing differently.

SL: A fan of reggae, Ward finds commonality between his art and music.

NW: When I think about how to change something, I think about repetition, and then I also think about what can contradict that repetition. I think about that visual rhythm of the work, and for me that’s aligned with music.

SL:  Nari Ward’s work has been shown at the Guggenheim, the Whitney Biennial, and other major venues in the United States and Europe.