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Nari Ward’s installation, “Amazing Grace,” is currently on view at the New Museum until April 21, 2013. Originally created in 1993 for an abandoned fire station in Harlem, it now resides in the Museum’s Studio 231 space as part of “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star,” a larger exhibition that opens February 13, 2013.
Ward says, “You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.” Where we were is New York City in 1993 at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis and crack epidemic. His installation, “Amazing Grace” was created in direct reaction to this tragedy—it is about a community in crisis.
“Amazing Grace” is a large-scale installation comprised of 310 abandoned strollers, arranged in an oval with a central walkway made of flattened fire hoses. Uneven and tough terrain makes navigation slow and deliberate. The objects in this work were all heavily used: first by parents and then by the homeless. While the owner might have been quite different, the goal was the same: the transport of ones possessions either human or physical.
While depressing at first glance, these found objects, accompanied with Mahalia Jackson’s uplifting “Amazing Grace” song, begin to emanate a sort of hope. Ward says the song was a favorite of his father’s and was constantly playing in his home while growing up. “It is a song about redemption and change so it became the necessary element of hope I felt the work needed.” The strollers, although forgotten by former caretakers, are now unified in their huddle, the accumulation suggesting comfort in numbers.
For Ward, this piece symbolized and captured his experience living in Harlem in 1993. This year is also the focus of the upcoming show at the New Museum aiming to provide an extensive visual and cultural snapshot of that year in America. It was a changing time when globalization, new technology, and civil rights were propelling our lives forward. But at the same time, in Harlem, the onset of the AIDS crisis and the crack epidemic were inescapable. Ward’s installation gives viewers an opportunity to look at a moment when our country was in flux, teetering between tragedy and hope.
Nari Ward’s (b. 1963, St. Andrews, Jamaica) dramatic sculptural installations are composed of systematically collected material from his urban neighborhood. By revealing the numerous emotions inherent within found everyday objects, Ward’s works examine issues surrounding race, poverty, and consumer culture.