Saturday, 28 June 2008

Wangechi Mutu | Kenya, USA



Source: Michael Stevenson Gallery

http://www.michaelstevenson.com/contemporary/exhibitions/distant_relatives/index.htm

Wangechi Mutu
Born 1972, Nairobi, Kenya
Lives and works in New York, USA

Born in Kenya, Wangechi Mutu attended boarding school in Wales for two years before moving to the United States. She holds a BFA from the Cooper Union in New York, and an MFA from Yale. In 2003 she was an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

Mutu’s work is included in the currently touring Africa Remix. In 2005 she held solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Miami Art Museum and at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Group exhibitions include drawing shows at MoMA, New York, and Tate Modern, London; Greater New York 2005 at PS1, New York; Figuratively (2004) and Africaine (2002) at the Studio Museum; Looking Both Ways at the Museum for African Art, New York (2003); Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti at the New Museum, New York (2003), and Kellie Jones’ Life’s Little Necessities at the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale.

Using a combination of ink drawings, collage and site-specific wall pieces, Mutu gleans images from ethnographic photo essays, magazines and wildlife journals, adopting the distended and mutated figure as a central part of her work. Creating flamboyant hybrids that reflect the pervasive obsession with physical appearance, she emphasises the violence that comes from the pursuit of affluence and power in Western society, particularly as it impacts on the female body. Mutu’s sumptuous monstrosities parody Western ideals of representation, and the manner in which they grate against the daily realities experienced by the majority of the world’s population.

Mutu refers indirectly to notions of relative distance to Africa in an interview in which Lauri Firstenberg asks for her thoughts on the conceptual framework of Afro-futurism:

"I have to admit that being transplanted changes your notions of self and survival. I’m sure the more extreme your migration story is, the more complicated do issues of personal and cultural survival become for you. Displacement anxiety and a fractured identity are implied in my drawings; there are mutilations and awkward attachments in the collage work. I think one of my most poignant moments in my teens was realizing that my father’s generation was this group of men who’d been raised to understand the true traditional value of a large herd of cattle and goats, yet they were expected to mutate and become middle-class, Mercedes-owing intellectually rigorous, three-piece-suit-wearing urbanites".(1)

Cutting, the work shown in this exhibition, marks a return to the medium of video for Mutu. The work was filmed in the US-Mexico border town of Presidio, at sunset in the desert, during a residency at Art Pace in San Antonio, Texas, in 2004. Isolde Brielmaier writes in Parkett:

Given her affinity for collage, the work seems unexpected. But it also made sense. In Cutting, Mutu uses her own body as a central site for investigating history and culture. Her figure is seen against a vast rural landscape repetitiously hacking away at a large pile of wood and debris with a machete. Exhausted after breaking down the pile into a mass of rubble, she leaves her machete stuck upright in the wooden bits, its handle forming a strong, foreboding vertical against the horizon, and turns to walk up a hill.

When asked why she had now decided to work with video, Mutu explained, “the world – and perhaps by extension people – is in a period of self-destruction. It exists in a constant state of pain that is in many ways self-inflicted. This work conveys immediacy and highlights this anxiety. I also wanted to draw on a sore connection between the idea of a rural space and the fear of elimination and infestation as well as the idea that tools used for providing and creating can so easily be transformed into weapons for murder.” Mutu created videos back in the late 1990s, so in some sense she wanted to move back to where she started. “Nothing is clear cut. Issues shift. Video allows me the capability of creating yet another world and putting myself in the middle of it because I am part of it ... the problems and the solutions. Video, for me, is a means by which to dramatize urgent issues, to invent and re-invent.” Mutu sees the medium as being very much linked to her love of assemblage, to the acts of cutting, splicing, and combining elements. It expands her repertoire. She then has more to work with as she creatively and continually re-works her bodies, builds her environments and re-imagines her art and the world.(2)

(1)‘Firstenberg, Lauri, ‘Perverse Anthropology: The photomontage of Wangechi Mutu’ in Looking Both Ways: Art of the contemporary African diaspora (New York and Gent: Museum for African Art and Snoeck, 2004), 136-143.
(2)Brielmaier, Isolde, ‘Wangechi Mutu: Re-imagining the world’ in Parkett, No 74 (2005), 13.

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