202 Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace is Nari Ward’s best known work. He began working on the piece during his residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1992. During that time, he observed homeless men and women in Harlem carrying around their belongings and bottle and cans they collected in baby strollers that had been discarded by their original owners. Over time, these strollers would deteriorate and breakdown causing them to be discarded for a final time. At this point, Ward would rescue them from the street and bring them back to his studio to clean and repair them. Over time he collected 365 of the strollers and bean to look for a place to exhibit them. His initial plan was to exhibit them in a church, in an effort to create the spiritual and emotional uplift of the churches services he experienced as a child, but failing to find one, he eventually stumbled upon a former firehouse in Harlem that had fallen into disrepair. He eventually convinced the owner of the building to let him use it for a small price. Ward arranged the strollers he collected into a shape that for him evoke the space of a womb, creating walkways with the discarded firehoses he found in the building and accompanied the work with a gospel soundtrack—Mahlia Jackson’s “Amazing Grace.” Ward exhibited the work in the firehouse twice, once in 1993 and again in 1995. Over time, the work has become a legendary piece in the history of recent art in New York. It continues to evoke powerful emotional reactions for visitors for the ways it speaks to the wide range of individuals who make up a community, and suggests the historical traumas of slavery, and the AIDS epidemic that arose in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Audio guide: “Nari Ward: We the People,” New Museum, New York, 2019.