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Hunter College Professor of Studio Art Nari Ward Wins the 2017 Vilcek Prize

The prestigious Vilcek Prize has been awarded to Hunter Professor of Studio Art Nari Ward, an acclaimed sculptor. Awarded annually by the Vilcek Foundation, the prize honors immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society through their extraordinary achievements in biomedical research, the arts and the humanities. This is the first time in 11 years that the prize is honoring a practitioner of the fine arts. Past recipients include Yo Yo Ma (Contemporary Music, 2013) and Mikhail Baryshnikov (Dance, 2012).

“We are very proud of Professor Ward,” said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab. “Since it honors his contributions as both an artist and an immigrant, he is an excellent role model for our students, many of whom are new Americans as well. Hunter students and the entire Hunter community are fortunate to know and appreciate Nari Ward and to have the opportunity to learn from him.” 

Professor Ward was born in Jamaica, and after moving to New York, worked closely with Hunter College Professor Emily Mason, and graduated with a B.A. in 1989. Since then, his dramatic sculptural installations have been praised and exhibited by major cultural institutions throughout the U.S. and around the world.

“It means a great deal to be recognized with such an important honor as the Vilcek Prize, especially at this moment – it is quite humbling and affirming. We are at a crucial period of American history in which immigrant rights are such a contentious issue. I feel a deeper sense of urgency to continue using my work to question our relationship to identity, history and power,” said Professor Ward. “Teaching for me is activism. I wouldn’t be an artist if I did not have the mentors who helped me to look at and challenge my approach to seeing. In contemporary society there are very few opportunities to profoundly affect an individual’s life, and teachers offer this possibility.”

Professor Ward’s new five-acre solo exhibition, G.O.A.T., again, will open on April 29 in Long Island City’s waterfront Socrates Sculpture Park, marking the first time the park has given all five acres to one artist.

“Nari makes beautiful and haunting work that has a great impact on the young artists he teaches, and just as important, his history resonates with so many of our students,” said Howard Singerman, chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Hunter.

According to Jeffrey Mongrain, Distinguished Professor in Hunter’s Department of Art and Art History, Professor Ward was hired as a tenure track Assistant Professor in 1998. He has taught at every level in the department so that many students have been able to be in his classes. 

“He is by nature a gentle and supportive teacher able to share his breadth of knowledge of contemporary art with ease, clarity and specificity which I believe is the hallmark of a great teacher. It is clear to me that Nari’s students both like and respect him, and it’s been a genuine pleasure to work with him at Hunter College as a friend, fellow artist and colleague,” said Professor Mongrain.

Four artists were winners of the 2017 Vilcek Prizes for the Arts. Nari Ward was given the foundation’s highest honor, which has a cash prize of $100,000. Ward’s work reflects his immigrant background, often exploring the differences between his own Jamaican heritage with his American experience. His work has been shown internationally in museums such as the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. 

Ward has been honored before with the Joyce Award, the Rome Prize, and a Bessie Award for visual design working with Ralph Lemon. He also has awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Pollock Krasner Foundation.

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