The Vilcek Foundation has produced a limited-edition publication to extend the impact of the exhibition Nari Ward: Home of the Brave. Developed in partnership with Jamaica-born artist Nari Ward and the team at the AHOY branding and design studios, the book was released in a numbered run of 1,000 on February 16, 2023.
The purpose of this publication is not only to enrich the exhibition, but to provide insight into Ward’s artistry and practice. “Ward’s work synthesizes his experience of the Black diaspora in the United States,” says Vilcek Foundation President Rick Kinsel. “Each work in this exhibition invites viewers to study the complexities of freedom, identity, and subjugation.”
“His artistry and his work are important touchstones to the past, present, and future Black and immigrant experiences in the United States. It was important to us not only to build an exhibition that celebrates his work, but to use our resources to create a lasting publication that can serve as a point for further inquiry and exploration.”
Kinsel continues, “Nari’s artistic voice was a guiding factor in the development of all aspects of our exhibition—including the publication. His use of iconography including the American flag and Emma Lazarus’s poem from the base of the Statue of Liberty were core inspirations for the book’s form: an imaginary passport to the Home of the Brave.”
Nari Ward: Home of the Brave Exhibition
The exhibition Nari Ward: Home of the Brave opened at the Vilcek Foundation in May 2022 and remained on view through March 2023. Curated by Kinsel, the exhibition included seven mixed-media sculptures and installations by the artist, spanning from 2006 to 2022. Art historian and scholar Erica Moiah James, PhD, wrote an exhibition essay for Home of the Brave that was reproduced in a digital exhibition program and is reprinted in this book. The book’s release date corresponded to a program at the Vilcek Foundation on February 16, 2023, where dancer and choreographer Jessica Emmanuel staged a performance piece activating Ward’s Tumblehood, followed by an artist talk with James, Ward, and Emmanuel.
The artist’s hand, the artist’s voice
Nari Ward’s work is personal and political. Born in Jamaica’s St. Andrew Parish, the artist grew up in Jamaica until the age of 12, when he and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
Ward uses his artwork to reflect and prompt dialogue on the experience of being Black and being an immigrant, and the history of race and power in the United States. In an interview with Kinsel, Ward shares how his G.O.A.T. works—two of which are included in Home of the Brave—reckon with these concepts, as well as playing on the term “Greatest of All Time” and the lionization of Black athletes and artists in popular culture. “[These works are] a clearing of one’s rights and a kind of acknowledgement of citizenship and what that means and the level of understanding of one’s own role in the society,” Ward says, ”with a bravado, a kind of hubris…[and] a ridiculous engagement with a particular political slogan that talked about America being great again.”
Exhibition essayist Erica Moiah James, PhD, writes on the complexity and depth of thought in Ward’s work, noting that the artist “multiplies double entendre often found in Caribbean lyrical music forms, delaying the quick read, resisting the ossification of the work into a single story or meaning.” She writes, “The art encourages its audience to grapple with the promise and pain of America from the perspective of its huddled masses … [and] encourages audiences to hold the nation accountable to what it imagines itself to be, not as performative critique but as a critical act of love.”
The artist’s voice: Concept and execution
“With AHOY principals Connie Koch and Denise Sommer, we developed typographic and printing details for the book inspired by the graphic security features on U.S. passports and money,” says Kinsel. “The juxtaposition of themes—national defense and artistic ingenuity—is one that resonates through Nari’s work.”
The book is scaled to the size of a Jamaican passport in 1975—the year when Ward immigrated to the United States. The publication includes an exclusive discussion between Kinsel and Ward exploring the experiences and processes that shaped Ward’s approach to the works included in Home of the Brave. The book also includes detailed photographs and descriptions of Ward’s artworks Copper II, G.O.A.T. (2017), TIRED G.O.A.T. (2017), American Flag Banner (2022), Lazarus (2019), Tumblehood (2015), Chrysalis (2016), and Googly Eyes Defender (2006).
Copies of Nari Ward: Home of the Brave were distributed to attendees of the event on February 16. Additional copies will be made available to libraries, museums, and arts institutions throughout the United States.