Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey is the first survey in the United States of this internationally renowned, Brooklyn-based artist and will be showing at the Brooklyn Museum until next March. This retrospective began at the Nasher Museum of Art and will make its way to the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami in April 2014 and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in September 2014. The exhibition in Brooklyn has been made possible by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu scrutinizes globalization by combining found materials, magazine cutouts, sculpture, and painted imagery. Sampling such diverse sources as African traditions, international politics, the fashion industry, pornography, and science fiction, her work explores gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the exoticization of the black female body.
Mutu is best known for spectacular and provocative collages depicting female figures—part human, animal, plant, and machine—in fantastical landscapes that are simultaneously unnerving and alluring, defying easy categorization and identification. Bringing her interconnected ecosystems to life for this exhibition through sculptural installations and videos, Mutu encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.
The exhibition also includes Mutu’s first animation in which she collaborated with musician Santigold. The 8-minute video, The End of eating Everything,marks the journey of a flying, planet-like creature navigating a bleak skyscape. Read more about the animation at Cine Kenya’s previous post here and view an interview with Mutu and Santigold (below), where they discuss the inspiration behind the animation film and how why they decided to work together.
The show isn’t arranged in chronological order, but Mutu’s visual and political themes have remained fairly consistent. Ariella Budick of the Financial Times writes a vivid and arresting description of the Mutu’s work,
The best political art seduces. Using beauty as a lure, it tempts viewers to sidle up close enough for a message to sneak into their minds. Wangechi Mutu understands this well…This series has a ceremonial, theatrical quality, each character’s plumage as vivid and detailed as a Sargent socialite’s gown. But as a portraitist Mutu is too curious to be content with costume alone. Armed with virtuosity and insight, she discovers that she can go deep without ever abandoning the surface.
In an interview published by Africa is A Country, Mutu was candid and elaborated on her past experiences and the rigorous processes which she went through to reach success:
…you feel like you can slip in four hours of art making, but in terms of energy and your state of mind, it’s not that easy. You have to stay vulnerable to this thing within you that causes you to make art. You can’t approach it with just […] your head. You have to immerse yourself…I think coming from a poor country, one of the advantages you have is that you are wired to understand that there are not enough safety nets out there to catch you. You really do have to set yourself up for being successful, self-reliant, figuring things out for yourself, because the state is not going to do it — we don’t have that option at home…you’re on your own.
Other features Ciné Kenya has done about Wangechi Mutu’s work include an intimate interview at her home here, her collaboration with other prolific artists here, and her incredible work as the artistic director for a Pegasus Warning music video here.