Wangechi Mutu, Kenyan (1972 - )

Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu has trained as both a sculptor and anthropologist. Her work explores the contradictions of female and cultural identity and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics and the international fashion industry. Drawing from the aesthetics of traditional crafts, science fiction and funkadelia, Mutu’s works document the contemporary myth making of endangered cultural heritage.

Piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces and found materials, Mutu’s elaborate collages mimic amputation, transplant operations and bionic prosthetics. Her figures become satirical mutilations. Their forms are grotesquely marred through perverse modification, echoing the atrocities of war or self-inflicted improvements of plastic surgery. Mutu examines how ideology is very much tied to corporeal form. She cites a European preference to physique that has been inflicted on and adapted by Africans, resulting in both social hierarchy and genocide.

Mutu’s figures are equally repulsive and attractive. From corruption and violence, Mutu creates a glamorous beauty. Her figures are empowered by their survivalist adaptation to atrocity, immunised and ‘improved’ by horror and victimisation. Their exaggerated features are appropriated from lifestyle magazines and constructed from festive materials such as fairy dust and fun fur. Mutu uses materials which refer to African identity and political strife: dazzling black glitter symbolises western desire which simultaneously alludes to the illegal diamond trade and its terrible consequences. Her work embodies a notion of identity crisis, where origin and ownership of cultural signifiers becomes an unsettling and dubious terrain.

Mutu’s collages seem both ancient and futuristic. Her figures aspire to a super-race, by-products of an imposed evolution. In this series of work, she uses old medical diagrams, to convey the authenticity of artefact, as well as an appointed cultural value. Satirically identifying her ‘diseases’ as a sub/post-human monsters, she invents an equally primitive and prophetically alien species; a visionary futurism inclusive of cultural difference and self-determination.

1972 Born in Nairobi, Kenya
2000

MFA, Yale University, School of Art Sculpture, New Haven.

1996

BFA, Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science, New York.

1991 I.B. United World College of the Atlantic, Wales, UK
Lives and works in New York

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2003

Pagan Poetry, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles, CA
Creatures, Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning, Queens, NY

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2004
Gwangju Biennial, South Korea
Color Theory, Vitamin Arte Contemporanea, curated by, Torino, Italy
Figuratively, Studio Museum in Harlem, curated by Christine Kim, New York, NY
She’s Come Undone, Artemis Greenberg Van Doren gallery, curated by Agusto Arbizo New York, NY
Gio Ponti: Furnished Settings and Figuration, ACME, curated by Peter Loughrey / Chip Tom Los Angeles, CA
Open House: Working in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, curated by Tumelo Mosaka and Charlotta Kotik, Brooklyn, NY
It’s about memory, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, curated by Simon Watson, Chicago, IL
Dessins et des autres, Anne de Villepoix Gallery, Paris, France
Africa Remix, Kunstpalast Duesseldorf, Germany, traveling to Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
New, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City, CA
The Raw and the Cooked, Claremont University, curated by David Pagel, Claremont, CA
2003

Only Skin Deep, International Center of Photography, curated by Coco Fusco, New York, NY
Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Museum for African Art, Long Island City,NY
We Are Electric, Deitch Projects, curated by Chris Perez, New York, NY
New Art Wave, BAM, Brooklyn Academy of Music, curated by Dan Cameron, Brooklyn, NY
Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, The New Museum, curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, New York, NY
Art Basel Miami Beach, with Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects Miami, FL
Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY
Dubrow International, Krevits/ Wehby, curated by Norman Dubrow New York, NY
Off the Record, Skylight Gallery, curated by Kambui Olujimi, Brooklyn, NY
The Broken Mirror, Leroy Neiman Gallery at Columbia University, curated by Chitra Ganesh, New York, NY
Parish Art Museum, Studio Museum Exhibition, South Hampton, NY
Armory Art Fair: 2003, New York, NY
Creatures, Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning, Queens, NY
"7 Walls, 8 Views", by Renee Ricardo, Arena Gallery, New York, NY

2002 Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami, FL
Scratch, Arena Gallery, New York, NY
Brooklyn in Paris, Gallery Chez Valentin, Paris, France
Model Citizens, Roger Smith Gallery, curated by Janet Dees, New York, NY
Culture In A Jar, Longwood Arts Project, curated by Wanda Ortiz, New York, NY
Africaine, Studio Museum in Harlem, curated by Christine Kim, New York, NY
2001

Fusion, MoCada, New York, NY
Challenge, Skylight Gallery, New York, NY
Out of the Box, Queens Museum, New York, NY
Group Show, River Bank Gallery, New York, NY

2000

The Magic City, curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, Brent Sikkema, New York, NY

1999 Who’s afraid of … Galerie Michael Cosar, Düsseldorf
1998 In Coming, Art & Architecture Gallery, New Haven CT
Fusions, Imarisha Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
1997 Life’s Little Necessities, Johannesburg Biennale, The Castle, curated by Kellie Jones, Cape Town, South Africa

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