Wangechi Mutu – Hybrid Art

Forbidden Fruit Picker (2015) - Collage painting. Photo: I am Africa
Forbidden Fruit Picker (2015) - Collage painting. Photo: I am Africa

Who is Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan-American visual artist widely known for her collages, films, sculptures and installations. Her art reflects on sexuality, femininity, ecology, politics, the world and the futile but often damaging efforts of humans to control it. The artist’s work often represents the female body in twisted forms. With their skin being an eruption of buboes, half human bodies, half hyena, they give you a glimpse of the perversion of the body shaped by the oppression of women.

Wangechi Mutu was first recognised for her paintings and collages concentrated on various forms of violence and misrepresentation towards women, especially black women. Born in Kenya in 1972, she has been an established artist in New York for the past twenty years. The contemporary African artist moved to New York in the 1990’s for her studies focused on Anthropology. She is a holder of a master’s degree in sculpture from Yale School of Art.

Wangechi Mutu

Her Exhibitions

Being one of today’s most popular contemporary African female artists, her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. From The Contemporary Austin (Texas), the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York or even the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris to name a few places where her works were exposed.

Her first solo exhibition was back in March 2010 at the Gallery of Ontario. “A Fantastic Journey”, her first solo exhibition on U.S grounds was in March 2013. Since, she has been featured in major exhibitions and was even honoured by Deutsche Bank in 2010 as their “Artist of the Year”.

Worlds Within Worlds

With her intricate art, Wangechi Mutu explores and subverts cultural preconceptions of the female body occupied by powerful hybridised female figures. Her work was referred to as being engaging in her own unique form of myth-making which opens up other groups of symbolic female characteristics, different from those we know from classical history.

The contemporary artist’s work often crosses a variety of mediums. From collage, video, performance, sculpture – her work centers around African Black women in contemporary society. The feminine subject is represented in her work, sometimes less recognizable with the use of the form itself or the patterns and texture the figure is made from.

Family Tree, 2012. Photo: Peter Paul Geoffiron

Her distinct way of depicting women, often shown in sexual or sensual pose that leads to discussion about the objectification of women. Wangechi Mutu’s way of representing feminine qualities often enhances the strength of the image or the message that is being passed through. Her works are usually seen as contradictory as they are both seen as complicit to the actual problematic society but as well as hopeful for future change.

Afrofuturism

For many years, Wangechi Mutu has been repeatedly addressing the same themes but her work has never been stagnant. Her earlier works do lack the intensity of the more recent ones but all carry a deep message. In comparison, her earlier works are sparer and plainer compared to the flashy and glorious present ones, but the artist made her point through them all.

Water Woman, 2017. Photo: Gladstone Gallery

Wangechi Mutu’s work is referred to as being Afrofuturist where one uses imaginative strategies of science fiction to picture alternate realities for Africa and its people. In her work, afrofuturism can be seen in her amalgamations of humans and machines within collages. This representation can be seen in her work Family Tree. Her works constantly involve the intentional re-imaginations of the African life where both the past and future can be seen through a single figure.

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