NGV Triennial

Nari Ward
Last words of John Brown (red version)

LEVEL 3, Concourse


Nari Ward’s Last words of John Brown (red version) 2018 is from the artist’s series of text-based, shoelace installations that investigate how art-making and activism overlap. For each of the shoelace installations, installed directly into the wall, Ward questions and challenges cultural and societal power structures. For the artist, who ascribes a certain amount of animism to his materials, the shoelaces make general reference to an anonymous mass of people through their ubiquitous universal use. The work is composed entirely of sneaker shoelaces that spell out the phrase ‘This is a beautiful country’, cited as the last words of John Brown, an abolitionist who was put to death in 1859 for his use of violence in fighting for the freedom of black slaves. The work calls attention to American history as well as to contemporary issues surrounding race, identity, and politics.

Nari Ward is renowned for his ability to combine politics and historical references with personal identity, creating work that is unifying and humanistic at a time of extreme division worldwide. He is known for his sculptural installations composed of discarded material found and collected in his neighbourhood. Ward has repurposed objects such as baby strollers, shopping carts, bottles, doors, television sets, cash registers and shoelaces, among other materials. He re-contextualises these found objects in thought-provoking juxtapositions that create complex, metaphorical meanings to confront social and political issues surrounding race, poverty, and consumer culture. Ward intentionally leaves the meaning of his work open, allowing the viewer to provide his or her own interpretation.

Ward received a BA from City University of New York, Hunter College in 1989. He also received an MFA from City University of New York, Brooklyn College in 1992.

The NGV warmly thanks Triennial Champions Barry Janes & Paul Cross for their support