Part of the “If You Build It” exhibition in Sugar Hill, Sugar Hill Smiles mimics the form of mass-manufactured preservative cans, this art work references Piero Manzoni’s “Artist Shit” project, which called into question the notion of faith in the artist’s vision that bestowed value on anything an artist produces.
Ward’s project is more than an art insider’s joke. The smile in question here refers to the “canned” cliché of the happy African American minstrel character whose expression is meant to reassure the dominant class/audience that all is well with the status quo, be at ease. The minstrel’s “smile” can also be said to continue in the service industry where too often chattel slavery has been replaced by wage slavery, long brutal working hours and conditions for little pay—a fact hidden in the mechanisms of consumer cultures which function on smooth running and apparent pleasure in service.
Sugar Hill Smiles, however, engages with the action of ‘canning the smile’ from a different vantage point. With a former US president declaring his allegiance to Harlem and a slew of trendy restaurants opening to new occupants, real estate brokers are careful about the fragile nature of its investments and are quick to brand proximity without declaring their allegiances. Sugar Hill Smiles addresses how the Harlem brand is being marketed for the profit of so many that have very little direct investment in the neighborhood. Ward’s project adopts the Sugar Hill brand as Harlem’s own smile manufacturing center. The community members were invited to smile into 2,000-mirrored interior cans, which will be labeled and sealed.
Each smile is sold for $10.00USD.
Purchase a Sugar Hill Smiles cans by artist Nari Ward.
Proceeds to benefit Broadway Housing Communities educational programming.