Nari Ward makes sculptural installations from materials he collects in his own neighborhoods—in his original hometown in Jamaica, in various neighborhoods in New Jersey and New York, and most recently in Harlem, where he has lived since 1983. Ranging from a haunting grouping of abandoned baby strollers (Amazing Grace, 1993) to a scrolling script of “We the People” written in dangling shoelaces (We the People, 2011), to a collection of preservative cans filled with neighbors’ smiles (Sugar Hill Smiles, 2014), Ward’s compositions resonate with the materials they comprise. Ward takes up daunting societal topics ranging from healing and health care, to justice and the police, to immigrant identity struggles. All of his artworks wrestle with memory and belonging—from the formal throes of citizenship applications to the personal intimacies of family. Throughout his work, Ward juxtaposes surprising materials and themes, explaining, “I always feel like when I make something, the more absurd it is, the more potential for symbolism and meaning it gains.”
Inspired by a building adjacent to the High Line that had been transformed into an indoor parking lot, Ward reconfigures a memory from his childhood for his High Line Commission, Smart Tree. Returning to his father’s home in Jamaica after fifteen years away, Ward remembers finding one of two abandoned cars in the front yard sprouting a lime tree. He reimagines this fantastical story for the High Line in the form of a Smart car refinished with strips of tire treads and propped up on cinder blocks. In place of a lime tree, Smart Tree will feature an apple tree growing out of its roof, adapted out of necessity for its North American context. With the car’s cinderblock base representing stasis, and its coating of tire treads suggesting perpetual movement, Ward’s Smart Tree holds up a mirror to the flux surrounding the High Line itself and reminds viewers of the High Line’s history as a major transportation artery in Manhattan.