Wangechi Mutu’s “surreal cosmos”: Kenyan contemporary art – picture feast



New York-based, Kenya-born artist Wangechi Mutu’s first retrospective in Australia is a hit. 

Wangechi Mutu’s first solo survey exhibition of mixed media collage, installation and sculpture at Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) introduced her poetic works to a new audience and received rave reviews from the local press. 

Wangechi Mutu, 'Perhaps the Moon Will Save Us' (detail), 2008, blankets, plastic pearls, aluminium foil, animal pelts, clothing, photo collage, packing tape, ink, paint, dimensions variable. Image  courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Perhaps the Moon Will Save Us’ (detail), 2008, blankets, plastic pearls, aluminium foil, animal pelts, clothing, photo collage, packing tape, ink, paint, dimensions variable. Image
courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) in Sydney hosted the first Australian retrospective of Kenya-born artist Wangechi Mutu from 23 May to 14 August 2013. The New York-based artist is known for her mixed media collages and installations made with common materials like packing tape. The exhibition, titled “Wangechi Mutu”, included collages, installations and sculptures created within the past ten years.

The Wangechi Mutu survey received favourable press from numerous sources such as The Telegraph, which wrote: “the exhibition of the Kenyan-born artist’s work, which opens today at the MCA, has come together beautifully after years of preparation.”  ABC Sydney called it “a beautiful and intriguing art exhibition,” noting “these are rich and fascinating works and worth the visit.” Other press includes Sydney’s Time OutArt Daily, and Art Info.

Deutsche Bank, the sponsor of the exhibition, reports in its ArtMag:

Mutu’s art resembles a surreal cosmos populated by an entire armada of hybrid creatures—crosses between human, animal, and plant, monster and machine. Beauty and terror are inseparably intertwined in her work.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem' (detail), 2011, animal pelts, wood, bottles, wine, packing tape, blankets, electrical components, synthetic hair. Daskalopoulos Collection, Athens, Greece. (c) FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa 2011. Photograph: Erika Barahona-Ede.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem’ (detail), 2011, animal pelts, wood, bottles, wine, packing tape, blankets, electrical components, synthetic hair. Daskalopoulos Collection, Athens, Greece. © FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa 2011. Photograph: Erika Barahona-Ede.

MCA’s press release describes Mutu’s work as exploring “the contradictions of female and cultural identity and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics, and the international fashion industry.”

As the exhibition press release states,

Mutu’s collages represent bodies subjected to strange deformations or embellishments, combining drawn elements and image fragments from a variety of media including fashion magazines and ethnographic journals, as well as representations of the female body in pornography.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Intertwined', 2003, collage and watercolour on paper. Collection Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles. Image courtesy the artist.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Intertwined’, 2003, collage and watercolour on paper. Collection Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles. Image courtesy the artist.

Rachel Kent, MCA’s Chief Curator and the curator of the exhibition, says the artist blends humour, pathos and sexuality in surprising ways, as seen in Intertwined, which deals with themes of conquest and alienation.

Wangechi Mutu 'blackthrone  XI',(detail),  2012, wooden chair, plastic, synthetic hair, tinsel. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Wangechi Mutu ‘blackthrone XI’,(detail), 2012, wooden chair, plastic, synthetic hair, tinsel. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Wangechi Mutu says in the press release that her starting point is the “search for the black female body and how it is represented through popular media. ” In her art, she takes a critical look at how women are depicted culturally.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Ngbaka People' from the series "Bedroom Masks", 2011, collaged paper on postcard. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Ngbaka People’ from the series “Bedroom Masks”, 2011, collaged paper on postcard. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Adari Girl' from "The Ark Collection", 2006, collage on postcards displayed in four vitrines. Sender Collection, New York. Image courtesy the artist.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Adari Girl’ from “The Ark Collection”, 2006, collage on postcards displayed in four vitrines. Sender Collection, New York. Image courtesy the artist.

To coincide with the exhibition, a new monograph about the artist contains essays by Rachel Kent, Dan Cameron, Adrienne Edwards and Martin Kimani.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Epiglotus II', 2007, ink, paint,  mixed media, plant material and plastic pearls  on X-ray paper, collection Amaya Ltd, London. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery,  London.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Epiglotus II’, 2007, ink, paint, mixed media, plant material and plastic pearls on X-ray paper. Collection Amaya Ltd, London. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Wangechi Mutu, 'Drunk Palm III', 2007, ink, paint, mixed media, plant material and plastic pearls on X-ray paper. Collection Yana Peel. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Wangechi Mutu, ‘Drunk Palm III’, 2007, ink, paint, mixed media, plant material and plastic pearls on X-ray paper. Collection Yana Peel. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Wangechi Mutu poses with bunnies. Photograph: Kathryn Parker Almanac.

Wangechi Mutu poses with bunnies. Photograph: Kathryn Parker Almanac.

 

About the artist

Wangechi Mutu was born in 1972, in Nairobi, Kenya. She studied anthropology and art and went on to exhibit around the world. Her solo shows include the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2010); Kunsthalle Wien Museum, Vienna (2008); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (2005), and Art Pace, San Antonio (2004).

Her awards and grants include Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, Berlin (2010); Cooper Union Urban Visionaries Awards, Emerging Talent Award, New York (2008); The Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Award, New York (2007); and the Studio Museum in Harlem Artist in Residence, New York (2003).

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: African art, women artists, art events in Sydney

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Comments

Wangechi Mutu’s “surreal cosmos”: Kenyan contemporary art – picture feast — 1 Comment

  1. İ do not like this excibition. Why – there is the information about kenyan/african art. But here too much influence of, pardon, ” Western Nonsense Modern Art”.
    African art is very interesting, even from this time – if is originally african style. İt has an huge creative input. They do arts with everything – and meaningful as beautyful too.
    İt is not importend to be like the most of western modern ‘style’( like too much nonsens )- to be contemporary art. İ feel really sorry for that artist. İ am sure there is much better arts possible, if in the originally kenyan style done – by the same artist.

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