203 Iron Heaven
Iron Heaven is one of two works that Nari Ward created for the 1995 Whitney Biennial, both of which dealt with acts of violence and healing. As with many of his works, Iron Heaven began with Ward collecting dozens of everyday objects, in this case metal cooking sheets and wooden baseball bats. For Ward, the bats were objects that were charged with the history of racial violence in America and his choice to burn them was meant to recall America’s traumatic past and present. After burning them, Ward adorned each bat with little amulets created from cotton and melted sugar, both materials he was also using frequently in other works during that period. These materials were also chosen for their historical resonance, in this case, their connection to the history of slavery in both the United Sates and the Caribbean. For Ward, using these materials on the bats was an acknowledgement of this history, as well as a kind of ritual act of healing. The bats are arranged underneath an expansive surface of metal that evokes the night sky. Iron Heaven is an exemplary work for the way in which it demonstrates Ward’s symbolic use of materials and the wide range of cultural and historical references it combines. The curator and writer Okqui Enwezor has described the work as immediately evoking an African shrine, connecting Ward’s acts of healing to the history and cultural traditions of the African diaspora across the globe.
Audio guide: “Nari Ward: We the People,” New Museum, New York, 2019.