Nari Ward, Savior, 1996. Shopping cart, plastic garbage bags, cloth, bottles, metal fence, earth, wheel, mirror, chair, and clocks, 128 × 36 × 23 inches (325.1 × 91.4 × 58.4 cm). Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography. © Nari Ward
Emerging in the early 1990s as part of a generation of artists exploring the intersections of art, identity formation, and political representation, Nari Ward engages the symbolic potential of found objects. The artist draws on many references, ranging from folklore to West African and Western avant-garde sculptural legacies. Using labor-intensive processes, Ward imbues his work with layered meanings connected to cultural expression, history, and black experience, particularly of his native Jamaica and his adopted home of Harlem, New York, while also addressing issues related to immigration.
Savior resembles a regal version of a cart used often by homeless or itinerant people to collect recyclables or store their belongings. The sculpture is dense with material—its surface a web of twisted plastic and fabric and its interior filled with colored plastic bags holding empty bottles and other refuse. In his associated performance, documented in the video Pushing Savior—also in the ICA/Boston’s collection—Ward pushed the cart through the streets of Harlem. In these two works, the artist brings attention the city’s marginalized homeless population, questioning the visibility and invisibility of the disenfranchised in the public sphere. He began the sculpture during a residency at a Shaker community in Maine, where a resident building a chair explained to Ward that he constructs each piece of furniture for an angel to sit on. The chair at the very top of Savior references this exchange. Ward, however, remains skeptical of organized religions and thinks reliance on otherworldly entities strips one of agency. The sculpture conveys the vision and desire to push to reach one’s destiny.
Savior was included in the artist’s first major retrospective Nari Ward: Sun Splashed, which traveled to the ICA in 2017 from the Pérez Art Museum Miami. It enriches our sculpture as well as video holdings. Savior in particular is in conversation with works in the museum’s collection that similarly exalt everyday materials to examine cultural, bodily, and societal issues by such artists as Alexandre da Cunha, Tara Donovan, Mona Hatoum, Cady Noland, and Doris Salcedo.