The acclaimed mixed-media creator on colonialism, women warriors, and the consumerism that pays her bills.
By Benjy Hansen-Bundy on Sat. October 12, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
“The power for me is to keep the story of the female in the center, to keep discussing and talking about women as protagonists,” Wangechi Mutu said in a video introduction to A Fantastic Journey, her recent exhibition at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. For the casual art fancier who happens upon it, as I did this summer, the exhibition was like embedding in Mutu’s mind: Black globes of crumpled plastic hang on strings suspended from the ceiling, a looping video of the artist devouring cake flickers on the floor, and triumphant warrior women occupy magnificent collage landscapes on the walls.
Mutu, a Brooklyn transplant via Nairobi, deploys mixed media to grapple with themes of consumerism and colonization, of gender and race—and war. Her large, lush collages draw from images familiar to us, such as magazine photos of bare flesh and car engines, which she transforms into works that are mysterious, beautiful, and somewhat terrifying. Her animated short, The End of eating Everything, done in collaboration with the singer Santigold, depicts a colossal machine/beast/planet feeding on black birds while floating in a vast industrial dead space. In an interview discussing the piece, Santigold praised Mutu for her “explosive renewal” of artistic expression at a time when vapid materialism dominates the popular culture.
This week: Duncan talks with Wangechi Mutu! With many thanks to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s visiting artist program for making this interview possible.
Wangechi Mutu (b.1972, Nairobi, Kenya) is an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Originally from the Kenyan Kikuyu tribe, she was educated in Nairobi at Loreto Convent Msongari (1978-1989) and later studied at the United World College of the Atlantic, Wales (I.B., 1991). Mutu moved to New York in the 1990s, focusing on Fine Arts and Anthropology at the New School for Social Research and Parsons School of Art and Design. She earned a BFA from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science in 1996, and then received an MFA from Yale University (2000).
Mutu’s work has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Miami Art Museum, Tate Modern in London, the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, Germany, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Her first solo exhibition at a major North American museum opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario in March 2010.
She participated in the 2008 Prospect 1 Biennial in New Orleans and the 2004 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. Her work has been featured in major exhibitions including Greater New York at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and the Barbican Centre in London, and USA Today at The Royal Academy in London.
On February 23, 2010 Wangechi Mutu was honored by Deutsche Bank as their first Artist of the Year. The prize included a solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. Titled My Dirty Little Heaven, the show traveled in June 2010 to Wiels Center for Contemporary Art in Brussels, Belgium.
She is represented by Barbara Gladstone in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Los Angeles and Victoria Miro Gallery in London.