22 June 1972 |
Wangechi Mutu (born 22 June 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya) is an artist and sculptor who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Mutu is considered by many to be one of the most important contemporary African artists of recent years, and her work has achieved much global acclaim.
Background and education
Originally from Kenya, Mutu 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 Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science in 1996, and then received a master's degree in sculpture from Yale University in 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 Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Her first solo exhibition at a major North American museum opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario in March 2010. Her first U.S. solo exhibition, Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey in the United States opened at Nasher Museum of Art on 21 March 2013. A Fantastic Journey subsequently traveled to the Brooklyn Museum's Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in October 2013. She has held recent one-person shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia; Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Staatlichen Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany; Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, North Carolina; the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Illinois; and Miami Art Museum.
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 23 February 2010, Wangechi Mutu was honoured 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 travelled in June 2010 to the Wiels Center for Contemporary Art in Forest, Belgium.
In 2013, Mutu was awarded the BlackStar Film Festival Audience Award for Favorite Experimental Film in Philadelphia, PA for her film The End of Eating Everything, as well as the Brooklyn Museum Artist of the Year, Brooklyn, NY.
In 2014 she participated in 'The Divine Comedy. Heaven, hell, purgatory from the perspective of African contemporary artists' Museum of Modern Art (MMK), Frankfurt / Main, curated by Simon Njami. Wangechi Mutu was awarded the 2014 United States Artist Grant.
In 2015, Wangechi Mutu participated in the The 56th Venice Biennale's International Art Exhibition titled "All The World's Futures", curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. She also participated in the Dak'Art Biennial, the Kochi-Muziris Biennial, the Paris Triennial: Intense Proximity, the International Center of Photography's Triennial, and the Moscow Biennale.
In 2016, her film The End of Carrying All was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX.The film depicts Mutu herself crossing a landscape with a basket filling up with consumer goods as the landscape changes, ending with a volcanic eruption. In 2016, she also participated in several group exhibits, including “Blackness in Abstraction,” at the Pace Gallery in New York, “Black Pulp!” at the International Print Center in New Yorkk, and “Africans in America” at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.
Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art; The Studio Museum in Harlem; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art; the Brooklyn Museum; and Tate Modern in London.
Wangechi Mutu's work crosses a variety of mediums, including collage, video, performance, and sculpture, and investigates themes of gender, race, and colonialism. A recurring theme of Mutu's work is her various depictions of femininity. Mutu uses the feminine subject in her art, even when the figures are more or less unrecognizable, whether by using the form itself or the texture and patterns the figure is made from. Her use of otherworldly depictions for women, many times shown in a seemingly sexual or sensual pose, brings about discussion of the objectification of women. Specifically, Mutu addresses the hyper-objectification of black female bodies and has used an otherworldly nature to reiterate the fictitious nature of society's depictions of black women. Whether through delicate lined patterns or familiar feminine builds, Mutu's various ways of representing feminine qualities is said to enhance the strength of the images or the significance of the issues presented. Many of Mutu's artworks are known to be interpreted in contradictory ways, both seen as complicit to problematic society and as hopeful for future change in society. It's also been said that Mutu's use of such intentionally repulsive or otherworldly imagery may help woman to step away from perfection as it is presented in society and instead embrace their own imperfections and become more accepting of others flaws as well. Mutu frequently uses "grotesque" textures in her artwork and has cited her mother's medical books on tropical diseases as an inspiration, stating that there is "nothing more insanely visually interesting and repulsive than a body infected with tropical disease; these are diseases that grow and fester and become larger than the being that they have infected, almost." 
At the center of Mutu's works, she often places a performing or posed figure and uses this as a means to focus the eye and to unlock dialogue about perception in both personal and political realms. She's primarily interested in how identity pivots around a kind of social contract that can only be broken through personal and political re-invention and a re-writing of the codes that have been used to represent us. Her work proposes the need for a multiple-consciousness and an awareness of identity as performance to be able to remake the rules that bind our imagination. In order to reorganize the reality that serves us unsavory images of ourselves, Mutu creatively dismantles old tropes and intricately pieces together new ones. Through performance, collage-paintings, video, and sculpture, she continues to think about the complications of being and how one's physical body plays such a huge role in determining their experiences, survival, and ability to understand what that is. Her characters have the appearance of cyborgs or hybrid-species, often altered and enhanced, while positioned to imply power, unknowableness, and inherently vulnerable femaleness. In their very creation is a questioning of the role each and every one of us plays in our self-determination, in the well being of other humans, and the awareness of multiple cultural perspectives and the health of our ailing planet. Mutu has been experimenting with animation, painting on new surfaces, infusing the space with visceral environmental elements, and implementing the same rigor and commitment to bolder, more complex representations of the African subject and to a deeper investment in subjects typically relegated to the borders, margins, and silent spots of our shared history.
More recently, Mutu has exhibited sculptural installations. In 2006, Mutu and British architect David Adjaye collaborated on a project. They transformed the Upper East Side Salon 94 townhouse in New York into a subterraneous dinner party-setting titled Exhuming Gluttony: A Lover’s Requiem. Furs and bullet holes adorned the walls while wine bottles dangled in a careless chandelier-like form above the stained table. The table’s multiple legs resembled thick femurs with visibly delicate tibias, and the whole space had a pungent aroma. The artists strove to show a moment of gluttony. This vicious hunger was seen as a connection between images of The Last Supper, the climate of the current art-buying world, and the war in Iraq.
Another installation of Mutu, Suspended Playtime (2008) is a series of bundles of garbage bags, wrapped in gold twine as if suspended in spiders' webs, all suspended from the ceiling over the viewer. The installation makes reference to the common use of garbage bags as improvised balls and other playthings by African children.
In 2013, Wangechi Mutu's first-ever animated video, The End of Eating Everything, was created in collaboration with recording artist Santigold, commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art. The video was animated by Awesome + Modest.
In 2014, Mutu's art was on display at an exhibition entitled Nguva na Nyoka, at Victoria Miro Gallery in London. At the exhibition's opening night, Mutu displayed a performance piece, wherein guests were encouraged to consume custom-made Wangechi Mutu chocolate mermaids. The guests could obtain a mermaid only by "snapping a photo of their first bite, lick, taste," operating as a commentary on "the public consumption of brown bodies."
Mutu's work has been called "firmly Afrofuturist,"  as exemplified in her piece, The End of Eating Everything. In her 2013-2014 installation at the Brooklyn Museum, the curatorial placard accompanying her work A'gave, described Afrofuturism as "an aesthetic that uses the imaginative strategies of science fiction to envision alternate realities for Africa and people of African descent."  For critics, Mutu's imagined alternate realities for Africa through the medium of science fiction definitively situated Mutu in the genre of Afrofuturism.
Specific elements of Mutu's art that situate her within this genre include her amalgamation of human and machine, a Cyborg, within her material works, such as Family Tree as well as in The End of Eating Everything. Additionally, Mutu's work consistently involves intentional re-imagination of the African experience. In Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies, she examines social hierarchy and power relationships through the medium of collage, for "rankings of peoples have historically been constructed around fabricated racial and ethnic categories."  In Family Tree, as in many of her works, Mutu deliberately constructs both a past and a future within the single figure through displaying diagrams from antique medical journals as well as mechanical images.
- Enwezor, Okwui (February 2011). "Cut & Paste". Arise Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
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- Provocative Artist Wangechi Mutu to Tear Up Gallery Walls in Canadian Debut, AGO press release, 2 February 2010
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- Cervenak, Sarah Jane (2016-01-01). "Like Blood or Blossom: Wangechi Mutu's Resistant Harvests". Feminist Studies. 42 (2): 392–425. doi:10.15767/feministstudies.42.2.0392.
- Papenburg, Bettina. "Grotesque Sensations: Carnivalising the Sensorium in the Art of Wangechi Mutu". Carnal Aesthetics: Transgressive Imagery and Feminist Politics, edited by Bettina Papenburg and Marta Zarzycka, IB Tauris, London.
- Smith, Nicole R. (12/1/2009). "Wangechi Mutu: Feminist Collage and the Cyborg". Georgia State University. Check date values in:
- Hernandez, Jillian (2016-12-05). "The Ambivalent Grotesque: Reading Black Women's Erotic Corporeality in Wangechi Mutu's Work". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 42 (2): 427–457. doi:10.1086/688290. ISSN 0097-9740.
- "BOMB Magazine — Wangechi Mutu by Deborah Willis". bombmagazine.org. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
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- "Awesome + Modest website".
- Mutu, Wangechi. "News". Wangechi Mutu. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
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- Mutu, Wangechi. "Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies". Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- Wangechi Mutu, as told to Faye Hirsch. "The Women". Art in America, November 2013. New York: Brant Publications, Inc. pp. 54–55.
- "Grotesque Sensations: Carnivalising the Sensorium in the Art of Wangeshi Mutu" by Bettina Papenburg in: B. Papenburg and M. Zarzycka (eds.) Carnal Aesthetics. London: I.B.Tauris, 2013. ISBN 978-1-78076-013-1.