Nari Ward, We the People (black version)

Hundreds of shoelaces form just three words, but many meanings.

Nari Ward, We the People (black version), 2015, shoelaces, 8 × 27 feet (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art), a Seeing America video

Ward, We The People

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Key points

  • “We the People” is the introductory line to the Preamble of the Constitution that boldly declared the right of people of the United States to govern themselves. Still, when it was written in 1787, the “people” was narrowly defined and did not necessarily include women, African-Americans, Native Americans, or those who did not own land.
  • Nari Ward uses a common material, shoelaces, to evoke the many different people who are today brought together in the phrase “We the People.”
  • By using the draping shoelaces to define the old-fashioned calligraphic script, Ward obscures the words slightly. In this way, he encourages the viewer to pause and perhaps reconsider this familiar text.

Learn more about this work from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Watch Nari Ward discuss We The People in a 2017 video interview

Look at an online exhibition of Ward’s work at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum

Compare George Washington’s copy of a draft of the U.S. Constitution and the final, ratified version of the Constitution of the United States

More to think about

Nari Ward’s We The People demonstrates how contemporary art often asks viewers to think more critically about everyday things that we may take for granted. Can you think of another important icon of American culture that has become commonplace and taken for granted, and that should be examined more carefully?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.