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Great Immigrants

Nari Ward
Artist and Distinguished Professor/Head of Sculpture, Hunter College | Guggenheim Fellow and Rome Prize Winner
Born in:
Jamaica

Born in Jamaica, Nari Ward moved to the United States at age 12. Today, he is an acclaimed visual artist, best known for taking ordinary, often discarded objects and transforming them into extraordinary sculptures. Ward’s work can be fantastical, like Mango Tourist (2011), in which gigantic snowmen made of yellow foam, discarded electrical parts, and mango seeds conjure the images of America as the magical place that Ward envisioned as a kid growing up in Jamaica. It can also be haunting, like Amazing Grace, originally created in 1993 and one of his most famous works. That installation piece incorporates hundreds of abandoned baby strollers to represent the suffering and loss of the AIDS and crack epidemics that devastated Ward’s Harlem neighborhood during the 1990s. The immigrant experience is another major theme of Ward’s work, as seen in The Naturalization Drawing Table — an interactive installation that draws viewers into the experience of becoming a U.S. citizen by inviting them to complete naturalization forms and have their photographs taken, later displaying the applications as part of the exhibition. Ward’s work has appeared all over the world in numerous group and solo exhibitions, including a 2019 career survey at the New Museum in New York City. Professor and head of sculpture at Hunter College, he is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize. After winning the 2017 Vilcek Prize, which honors immigrant contributions to American society, Ward reflected on how his immigrant identity has shaped his work: “There are things you can claim and empower yourself to say that’s just as important as where I was born. That idea that you can claim your own history is really important. We’re all coming from somewhere. And sometimes it’s necessary to be lost so you can figure out things for yourself. I think that’s what art is all about.”