Nari Ward Receives Vilcek Prize for Immigrant Artists, With $100,000 Cash Award

Iman Issa, Meleko Mokgosi, and Carlos Motta have also been honored.

Nari Ward. Courtesy of Clint Spaulding, © Patrick McMullan.

Jamaican-born artist Nari Ward is the 2017 winner of the Vilcek Prize for the Arts, which, the statement notes, are “awarded in recognition of outstanding immigrant contributions to the American arts and sciences.” Ward will receive $100,000 in cash,

Three additional $50,000 cash awards for Creative Promise in the Fine Arts, for immigrant artists under 38 years old, were distributed to Iman Issa, Meleko Mokgosi, and Carlos Motta.


Ward, who moved to the US as a 12-year-old, creates work that explores issues of race, immigration, poverty, consumer culture, and Caribbean identity through found-object assemblages. In its announcement, the foundation gave special mention to Naturalization Drawing Table, Ward’s 2004 interactive installation of a large desk created from Plexiglas bodega barricades adorned with applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Nari Ward, <em>Naturalization Drawing Table</em>. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York.

Nari Ward, Naturalization Drawing Table. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York.

The work, now especially timely given President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, invites viewers to participate in the bureaucratic process of gaining citizenship.

“These immigrant artists are explorers and philosophers,” said Marica Vilcek, vice chairman of the Vilcek Foundation, in a statement. “They seek answers to questions about the nature of power, politics, and the relationship between the individual and the collective, and they do so with originality, imagination, and a strong sense of justice.”

Ward was selected for the honor by jury members Brooke Davis Anderson, executive director of Prospect New Orleans; Deborah Cullen, director and chief curator of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at New York’s Columbia University; artist Coco Fusco; Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of New York’s New Museum; Paul Ha, director of the List Visual Arts Center at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Sara Raza, curator at the New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Nari Ward, process detail featuring goat mold. Photo by Mitch Cope.

Nari Ward, process detail featuring goat mold. Photo by Mitch Cope.

Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of New York’s Public Art Fund; Naomi Beckwith, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Rita Gonzalez, associate curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hitomi Iwasaki, director of exhibitions/curator at the Queens Museum of Art; and Thomas J. Lax, associate curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, comprised the jury panel for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Fine Arts.

Earlier this week, Queens’s Socrates Sculpture Park announced that it would present Ward’s first institutional solo show in New York, beginning April 29. On view through September 4, “Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again” takes its name from the acronym for “Greatest of All Time,” popularized by boxer Muhammad Ali and Queens-born hip-hop star LL Cool J.

Ward has been commissioned to create six new outdoor works for the exhibition, and will draw on common outdoor structures such as monuments, playgrounds, lawn ornaments, architectural barriers, and advertising signs as inspiration. Jess Wilcox, the park’s director of exhibitions, will serve as curator.

The Vilcek Foundation will honor the prizewinners at a ceremony in New York City in April.

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