The works of Nari Ward and Robin Rhode combine themes of social injustice and unity. In ‘Power Wall’, a dual exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong, the artists have joined forces for the first time to offer a unique perspective on the complex global socio-political landscape and the dichotomy of power. 

Throughout the space, installations are intertwined, creating a feeling of collectiveness: in between Robin Rhode’s narrative photographic works, Nari Ward’s Shoelaces series – in which a web of often-vibrantly coloured shoelaces appear to protrude directly from the gallery walls – reveals a web of evocative sentences and symbols. ‘I try to use the quotidian materials to stimulate an immediate dialogue with the viewer’, says the Jamaica-born, New York-based artist, emphasising the importance of creating a familiar, unified environment for his audience. Inciting a spirit of community seems to be the core of his creative mission: one piece depicts a clenched fist, a universal symbol of solidarity.

Nari Ward, Sole Revel, 2020, Shoelaces. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Ward’s engagement with walls is both political and metaphorical, reflecting a need for constant reconsideration of their purpose. ‘Projected onto the idea of a wall are two notions, that of function (i.e. support) and also of division (i.e. control)’, he says. ‘The dialogue I’m interested in examining exists between these two notions, as well as between the simultaneously indomitable yet vulnerable human spirit.’

Nari Ward, Power Wall - Power People, 2019, Shoelaces. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

For Rhode, the wall represents a channel for both individual expression and broader socio-political concerns. In this show, the South African artist unveils a series of evocative installations that combine performance and photography. In S, Rhode’s protagonist performs in front of a paperclip mural applied onto an urban façade. As the series evolves, the letter ‘S’ – a reference to the infinity symbol – begins to emerge. These performative, repetitive works are less about what the artist leaves behind in the urban environment, and more about developing a fictional storyboard – inspired in part by early methods of motion photography. 

Robin Rhode, S, 2014 (detail), C-print. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Rhode’s engagement with walls as a medium was spurred on by a desire to disperse his ideas more widely: ‘The question I asked myself was “how could my art reach a broader public away from the confines of the white cube exhibition space”?’ For him, the concept of walls extends to confronting ‘the ephemerality of art, the public accessibility to art, but also to the art-making process when considering ideas of scale and socio-political engagement.’

Both artists hold highly distinctive practices, yet Nari Ward and Robin Rhode share a similar goal: identifying the wall to anchor a sense of strength, solidarity and communication in a divided society. §