Nari Ward


Left: Nari Ward, Happy Smilers: Duty Free Shopping, 1996. Photo: Pérez Art Museum Miami. Right: Nari Ward, Sun Splashed, Listri Sulla soglia, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, and Havana.

Nari Ward is a Jamaican-born artist who lives and works in New York City. Here he discusses the extensive survey of twenty years of his practice, “Sun Splashed,” which opened this month at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and is on view through February 21, 2016.

SOUND IS LIKE A SPIRIT. It is in everything. When you write a rhythm you are acknowledging the sound that is already here and simply amplifying it. My work is visual; however, I also make sonic space, and even when there is no sound component the surrounding air has an aural quality. Happy Smilers, 1996, was an early artwork that that was first shown at Deitch Projects, and I am thrilled to see it up in Miami, because it hasn’t been shown since then. For that piece, I was inspired by a numbers runner who lived in my old apartment building and ran a candy shop downstairs where no one bought candy—I was drawn to how he set up a false expectation. Similarly, I created a fake storefront in order to disrupt the expectation produced by the white cube. In those days working with Jeffrey Deitch in New York, you had the space to make installations that commented on the social texture of the city. I learned something then that I still value today: that art isn’t about making products for a gallery.

In the piece, a bright yellow atrium opens onto a room containing home goods and furnishings, which are wrapped in fire hose. Happy Smilers was also the name of my uncle’s band; he sang mento—early Jamaican folk songs. We play his music in the installation, accompanied by the sound of heavy rain on a zinc roof. The fire hose material buffers the noise of the rain and simultaneously emulates the tone of sparks from flickering flames. This is one of those unintentional but powerful moments that happen in installation, the elements of chance.

Nari Ward discusses his retrospective at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The Pérez show is divided into two bodies of work, but for me there is little demarcation between art derived from a Caribbean sensibility and work that the curators consider to be more American. Bringing a social issue into the work depends on where I am when I am producing. Vertical Hold, 1996, showcases the meticulous labor of collecting as intensity imbued with irreverence. I made it during a residency with the Shakers in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I wanted to find cultural material from the original communities. One of the Shakers, Brother Arnold, showed me an old dump site where I found nothing, but I kept looking. Eventually I saw unbroken bottles sticking out of the ground, and I picked them up. I tied these bottles together and made a kind of quilt. It is suspended in a circular configuration in the show. When you move around the work, the light striking the bottles along with the intense tying and knotting of the yarn begins to emanate a certain power.

Seeing these early works up next to my latest series makes sense here. Miami is a gateway to the Caribbean, but it also has pathways leading back to New York. A few years ago, a naive collector said my work did not seem Jamaican because it was not happy. Everywhere I looked, I saw this myth of the happy Jamaican. The collector’s words haunted me, triggered me to collect smiles. Piero Manzoni questioned ideas of value with his shit cans, so, alluding to his irreverence, I made a series of cans with mirrors in them, Canned Smiles, 2013; I captured people’s smiles and closed the cans. They were labeled “Black Smiles” and “Jamaican Smiles.” This was the rich absurdity that led me back to the early Happy Smilers piece, and thus to the “Sun Splashed” photos that give this show its title.

For that series I went to different homes, stood next to their houseplants, and plastered a big smile on my face. I co-opted my uncle’s happy persona from his Happy Smilers album cover, but my photographs never worked; I looked like a fool. It was only when I stopped smiling and looked at the camera that my focus held. Then the confounding nature of the image, about not belonging, being an introvert, a victim, or even perhaps a worker that is walking away with a plant, all came to the fore. Like my installations, these photographs are activations of memory through a found cultural artifact, showcasing my impertinence in the face of found assumptions.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Christine Sun Kim, Face Opera II, 2015. Rehearsal view, November 25, 2015.

Artist Christine Sun Kim has deployed a range of media, from drawings to electronic devices, to explore sound as a medium, particularly from her perspective as a deaf artist. Her upcoming exhibition at Carroll / Fletcher in London will reprise a work currently on view at “Greater New York” in MoMA PS1, and will also include new pieces, which she discusses below. The show, which runs from November 27, 2015 to January 30, 2016, will also feature a performance, Face Opera: Thumbs Up, on Thursday, November 26, at 7:30 PM.

OVER TIME, I’ve found myself starting to understand the lingo of sound and music more and more, especially in terms of quantitative forms like decibel and hertz. I’m beginning to find music much more personal, mainly because of the musicians I’ve befriended in the past two years. My upcoming show will feature Game of Skill 1.0, 2015, which is actually an a predecessor of Game of Skill 2.0, which New York museumgoers can experience at MoMA PS1 right now.. I like how super analog 1.0 is, especially with its visible external speakers, as opposed to built-in ones. However, both versions offer the same or similar listening experience. Each piece was built by my technician Levy Lorenzo. I hope the Game of Skill 1.0 installation will encourage participants to listen like gamers, or human turntable needles. In it, you hold up a device that connects to a strip of Velcro with magnets above you, and then you physically walk around in order to listen to audio, which is controlled by the device and its responses to your movement The audio comes out in a way that’s affected by the way you move, walk, or hold the device. It takes practice to perfect; it might be laborious but it’s meant to make your listening feel unfamiliar and like you’re learning a skill. This partially came from my observation of how hearing people passively and mindlessly listen, which I think is something they often take for granted.

Face Opera, 2013/2015, is another piece I’ve already done twice with a group of deaf friends in New York. This upcoming performance will involve a group of deaf Brits, which I’m incredibly excited about. Two of them are my good friends and I know British Sign Language (entirely different from American Sign Language) enough to carry conversations. Those participants have helped me develop the score and will sing with their faces alone, rather than hands. In BSL, there is a strong use of thumbs to express everyday concepts like “good night” (thumb up, night), “my dinner is great" (dinner, thumb up), or “all right” (two thumbs up), hence the latest iteration’s title, Face Opera: Thumbs Up.

In terms of new work, I’ll be exhibiting a series of drawings that is mostly about my relationship with ASL interpreters, as well as Close Readings, a project that has a lot to do with how necessary it is to work with other voices in order to have one. This piece came from my experience of reading rather than watching a movie called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014). Their captioner went overboard and captioned almost every single sound in it, in a way that made the captions seem imposing, specific, and abstract. I realized from this that sound can be incredibly multidimensional and how difficult it is to put them into a few words. It also made me understand that for many years I’ve been placing so much trust in captioners to decide which sounds are important. For example, if Rihanna’s “BBHMM” comes up in a scene, a captioner could easily describe it as a “song in background” instead of specifying which song, musician, instruments, or even lyrics. My perception of movies largely depends on those captioners, just like my perceptions of spoken conversations depend on my sign language interpreters. I invited four deaf friends to add their own sound cues to five movie scenes I selected that resonate with the theme of voice; they were asked to provide captions that were either literal, conceptual, or imagined.

Ultimately I think my main interest driving this show is the notion of going overboard: overreading movie captions, overlistening while playing games, overthinking about all the different voices I’ve worked with. Maybe it’s more about borrowing voices, and about how people perhaps overvalue voice as a sound rather than voice as a visual.

— As told to Dawn Chan

Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, Tituba Siphons Up Her Spectators in Order to Feed Her Young, 2013, india ink and compressed charcoal, 48 x 48". Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery and the artist.

Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle is an artist and currently a Fulbright fellow in Lagos, Nigeria, where she is working with students and faculty from the University of Lagos on her Kentifrica Project, 2010–, an ongoing piece about a hybrid, contested geography. Her latest exhibition, which features this work and two more projects (the “Tituba” series, 2013–, and the “Uninvited” series, 2008–), is titled “Who Among Us… The Art of Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle” and is on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco through April 3, 2016.

I AM USING MY FIRST MONTHS IN NIGERIA to learn more about navigating Lagos, to cook Nigerian foods, and to learn the local mythologies. Over these past weeks I have met a few students who are excited about the Kentifrica Project and the potential for empowerment and the creative leadership that it brings. I have also been working closely with my host, Dr. Adepeju Layiwola—an artist, scholar, activist, and professor at the University of Lagos. I am learning so much about the effects of colonialism on Nigerian history and culture, specifically in relationship to Benin and royal court art that was taken from the royal palace in 1897 by the British. The clash between cultural ideas concerning what is considered art, and what has ritual and ancestral importance in relationship to power, display, and economic gain is astounding and informing my work immensely. I am also making connections between how I was raised in Kentucky and the foods in the American South that are influenced by the food I am eating here. The connections are so rich! Louisville is in Lagos, and vice versa.

The Kentifrica Project collapses my interests in social sculpture, museum studies, anthropology, and the problematics of ethnography into one. Kentifrica started out as a solely autoethnographic project, in which I used my personal narrative as a point of departure to talk about fissures of identity. At first it was simply a collage of Kentucky and parts of West Africa, but after digging deeper I realized that the project extended beyond this collage because these geographies are complex. I created the project as an opportunity to embrace the idea of what I do not know about my ancestral origins instead of being consumed by a story of trauma and loss. I began to invite people to give their own interpretations about Kentifrica through panel discussions and collaborations to re-create artifacts or to prepare Kentifrican food. Through these invitations Kentifrica began to morph into both a physical and theoretical place in which a living archive was developing.

The museum component of the Kentifrican Museum of Culture then came about when I was invited to participate in Project Row Houses’ “Round 36” exhibition in 2012 in Houston. During the two-week installation I had the idea that the museum should be diasporic. I traveled to various locations and communities, so instead of people having to travel far—to a space in which they may feel alienated—the museum came to them.

As a visiting artist for my solo show at the University of New Hampshire Museum of Art this fall, I had the opportunity to go to Salem, Massachusetts, and take the tour of all the sites that played pivotal roles in the witch trials there. It was a powerful confirmation for the research I have been doing, especially a discussion I had with the guide about new concrete information that Tituba was of South American Arawak descent. My “Tituba” series, like much of my work, is about how the body of the other is used as scapegoat onto which fears and imaginative exotic fantasies are projected.

My work dwells within the unknown instead of being limited by it. The postcard images in the “Uninvited” series are historical documents that were supposed to represent some type of captured truth about the subjects, even though they were staged. When the viewer sees white paint within this series, it is Wite-Out Correction Fluid, which one uses to conceal mistakes, erase, or amend. I use it as a tool to renegotiate the expressions of colonial power that the postcards represent.

The term the “historical present” to me signifies the residue of history and how we are all chained to each other through the past and present. This idea came to me in 2012 when I re-created The Double Noose: Nowannago for the Kentifrica Project. The Double Noose hangs horizontally, and the loops look like an infinity symbol, suggesting that until we face the residue of history and honestly question its role within our lives, this inheritance will continue on forever. Historically, several of us are literally masters and slaves within the same body, so navigating the historical present can be an ongoing lifelong performance and practice of renegotiating the terms of history.

— As told to Monica Westin

Andrea Geyer


Andrea Geyer, Revolt, They Said, 2015, ink-jet print on adhesive-backed fabric, 17 x 29”. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn.

In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art invited New York–based artist Andrea Geyer to perform an Artist Research Residency in the museum’s archives. The residency was supported by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation. Two pieces from the resulting body of works are currently on view at the museum: The video Insistence, 2013, which is on view through November 15, 2015, and the mural Revolt, They Said, 2012–, which runs through November 29, 2015.

A CURIOUS BLIND SPOT exists in MoMA’s archives when it comes to women and modernism. I was intrigued by the fact that the alliance between the three women— Lillie P. Bliss, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Mary Quinn Sullivan—who founded the museum in 1929 left no trace in the archives: no photographs, no correspondence. David Rockefeller, who was a teenager at the time, recounted to me that these women were close friends who met regularly at the Rockefeller home for tea and went to exhibitions together. An archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center informed me that relationships between women were not considered worth archiving until much later. Yet still today awareness around these women’s achievements remains sparse. I wondered: What are the systems and mechanisms that enable our continuous blindness and deafness around these histories? What does it take to disrupt this process? How to uncover our own patterns of nonrecognition?

This led me to work on a series of projects, two of which are up at MoMA now: the mural Revolt, They Said and the video Insistence. The former began with a wild energy I sensed emanating from my research. I had to find a way to diagrammatically to keep track of these lost cross-cultural, cross-class, and cross-generational histories. Revolt, They Said weaves together an intricate score of relationships between women and is also a blueprint of how social, cultural, political change did and can happen. The crisscrossing lines connect labor organizers, such Mabel Dodge; artists such as Katherine S. Dreier, Nancy Prophet, Hilma Af Klimt, Friedl Dicker, and Romaine Brooks; gallerists such as Edith Halpert and Katherine Kuh; social entrepreneurs such as Fay Jackson Robinson; and cultural revolutionaries such as Lucy Gwynne Branham, among others. Salons held by affluent women as informal social gatherings brought women of diverse social classes together to exchange ideas, strategies, and resources. This form of organizing, of studying together, should be of vital importance for us in our own socially conservative era, as there are current systems that render certain voices more audible while others continue to be misheard and misjudged. To mount this drawing at MoMA is an invitation to look at this history through the lens of women’s work as a road map or passage and envision how change happens. What alliances do we need to create and maintain today?

Andrea Geyer discusses her show at MoMA.

The second, related work, Insistence, features an overhead shot of a table in which a hand stacks black-and-white photographs of women along with some interjections of color reproductions of modern artworks. The voice-over is a monologue based on the early stages of my research. This work argues that we must persist in our utterances of the women’s histories and not fail to remember them. For me, following their narrative is akin to cutting across the grass instead of walking on the paved path. Across such passages, such desire lines made by people like you and me, insistence opens new trajectories, perspectives are shifted and through repetition new associations are made possible.

I differentiate between remembering this history and insistence. This idea comes out of Gertrude Stein’s lecture on “Portraits and Repetition,” one of four speeches she gave when she toured the US in 1935. The conundrum she brings forward is that in portraiture lies a danger of arresting a person in a fixed image and taking away their agency. The task she proposes instead is to find modes of representation that allow individuals and ideas represented to remain alive. I find insistence appropriate in the context of a history and institutions that would not exist as such without the work of women. It also invites us to face the work that needs to get done.

I started this project looking for what was not there; I saw my research residency as an opportunity to use MoMA as a resource rather than solely as a display for exhibition. I wanted to understand the logic of cultural ecologies that connect midtown New York to Mexico City, the Southwest to Rome, Harlem to Paris and so on. And I was encouraged by how resilient some of these histories are in the face of collective amnesia, how their power is never finite, but insistently continues to operate in an ever-evolving present.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Lior Shvil


View of “Lior Shvil: PROTOCOLS,” 2015.

“PROTOCOLS,” Lior Shvil’s exhibition in New York, features a large-scale installation inspired by military counterinsurgency training courses as well as two performances. As part of by Performa 15, events will be held on November 14 and November 21, 2015, which are the product of ongoing workshops in which Shvil invites nonprofessional performers to play an active role in improvisational combat procedures. “PROTOCOLS” opened on September 12 and is on view at Art in General in New York through November 21, 2015.

I FIRST LEARNED OF TWENTYNINE PALMS, a city in Southern California that houses a vast Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, in 2011 when I went to shoot a video in nearby Joshua Tree. The base holds incredible training facilities, including seven mock city districts for urban combat that simulate Afghan villages. I am familiar with similar facilities from my own experience in the Israeli army, but what caught my attention and astonished me is the fact that at other bases the US army hires Iraqi civilians who fled their country to play the role of villagers while soldiers train—including at a nearby center in Fort Irwin, California.

Since then, I’ve been investigating different counterinsurgency theories and strategies that are at the base of these training exercises. Counterinsurgency Operations (also known as COIN) are defined by the 2009 US Government Counterinsurgency Guide as political strategies designed to protect the population from insurgent violence and to strengthen the capacity of governments. The guide functions as a manual for the army and contains detailed protocols for soldiers serving in the field. These describe how a soldier should perform with “minimum damage” while conducting various procedures, such as a “Search and Control” exercise, which refers to what the soldier should say and do if he stumbles upon villagers. What I found truly amazing was how these protocols are often racist and devoid of humanity, while they also are detailed instructions for forceful violent actions.

As an artist and former architect, I explore a range of visual languages and base my work on different storytelling forms. For this show, I chose to reread the guide as a poetic text in order to stage a scene that I could experiment with and observe. The text becomes a subversive tool that allows me to reactivate it with new psychological meaning.

Early in the project, which I initially conceived and realized as PROTOCOL X at High Desert Test Sites in May 2015, I began collaborating with actress and improv director Hollis Witherspoon, who has been my improv instructor for the past year and a half. Hollis adds an important layer to the work: While I am looking at the project from a sculptural point of view, Hollis adds an experienced theatrical perspective. I’m using nonprofessional performers, and the cast changes from one presentation to another, so do the scripts and actions. This is why I refer to the performances as “exercises.” For the exercises in “PROTOCOLS,” I sampled some of the archetypes the guide introduces: an old man with a stroller; a preacher or leader; a hysterical woman; a widow; and an orphan. Each of these characters represents a code for particular army maneuvers and routines. In addition to these villagers, a few of the participants play the role of US Army soldiers, thus simulating a real life encounter.

The installation at Art in General is based on a 1950s UN proposal scheme for Palestinian refugee camps—a model that consists of an endless grid of eight-foot-square cubicles that house displaced families. These cubicles become theatrical units that accommodate the different characters. The participants decide how they will portray the characters and what their actions will be within the defined protocols. In the work of Augusto Boal, to whom I owe a lot of this open-ended approach, he eliminates the audience by giving them active parts in the play. Inspired by his work, I introduce questions to the audience during the exercise, which enables them to make decisions regarding the development of the performance. The audience, referred to as “Public Opinion” in the show, may choose to take the side of the villagers by defending them from the soldiers, or may choose to support the soldiers. For example, the audience might be asked to actively assist in physically detaining a suspect. They will do so if they feel there is enough evidence to take this person into custody for further debriefing. Their decision is based on what they have witnessed in the chain of events in the performance up to that point. By giving their response, they can drastically change the course of action, right up to the end of the performance, and may feel responsible for the consequences.

— As told to Naomi Lev