Nari Ward’s sculptural practice is rooted in a deep engagement with his local community and an interest in public spaces as sites of group solidarity. Collecting and repurposing found objects, often sourced from the artist’s own neighbourhood in New York and other urban areas of note, he grapples with social and political issues surrounding race, poverty and consumer culture via metaphor and juxtaposition. Informed by these materials and the contexts from which he gathers them, Ward’s body of work channels the power of commemorative acts and collective action to consider systematic injustice.
For Sharjah Biennial 15, Ward presents Duty Colossus (2023), a monumental sculpture evoking the makeshift vernacular structures of Jamaican fishing villages. For Ward, who grew up in Jamaica but relocated to the United States as a child, his birthplace is a liminal zone between reality and imagination.
Installed on the site of a former fish-feed factory, the work draws its formal and thematic inspiration from a small, conical, basket-woven fish trap portal which functions through an interplay of seduction and entrapment. As a device that entices fish to enter, the form spatialises the experience of temporality, reflecting the artist’s desire to articulate a viewer’s ephemeral relationship to moments that cannot be relived or reinterpreted in their entirety.
Fragments of weathered and broken furniture suspended inside the cone recall the fish these baskets ensare. The shape itself is not the trap but a gateway or threshold. Alongside, Ward positions the replica of a local dhow [fishing boat], offering a counterbalance to the sculpture’s epic dimensions and adapting it to Sharjah’s context.