Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu was suggested to my daughter by her school art teacher as worthy of research on the topic of “marginalised female artists”, in response to the BLM protests. This provided me with some much-needed inspiration, and a new artist to find out more about. I hope to visit galleries again in person in the not-too-distant future, but for now I’m getting my fix online and via books and magazines – and Mutu’s art, as displayed here at the Victoria Miro gallery, is definitely worthy of interest.
Wangechi Mutu has lived and worked in New York in the USA for many years. As well as creating paintings and sculptures, she also works in film and performance. Her work has been widely exhibited in the USA, in particular, but also throughout Europe. In the UK her work has been on display at Tate Modern in London and in 2014 her Sirens and Serpents exhibition was held at the Victoria Miro gallery in London. As the Victoria Miro notes, her work comprises not only paintings, but also collage.
In creating her mixed media collages, “Mutu manipulates ink and acrylic paint into pools of colour, then carefully applies imagery sampled from disparate sources including medical diagrams, fashion magazines and traditional African arts. ” This technique is exemplified in her 2007 work, A Dragon Kiss always ends in Ashes. Often the pictures are created not on canvas or a paper-based material, but instead on mylar, a kind of plastic sheeting.
(Le Noble Savage, 2006, ink and collage on mylar.)
Recent, larger-than-life sculptures of seated African-inspired female forms for the Metropolitan Museum in New York “speak as messengers from an Afrofuturist-inflected otherworld” writes the New York Times. They are cast in bronze, with robe-like clothes that seem to ripple to the ground, while the imposing lip discs reflect an aspect of traditional Kenyan culture.
Apparently trained as an anthropologist as well as an artist, she repeatedly recasts and represents the female body as a site for an exploration of identity, self-image, gender, trauma and environmental degradation, in concert with the influence of African politics and post-colonialism.
“My work is often a therapy for myself – a working out of these issues as a black woman. And a way of allowing other black women to work through this kind of stigmatization as they look through the images and feel how distorted or contorted they might be in the public eye.”