“I’ve always been a city girl with a natural brain”: watch sculptor Wangechi Mutu weave worlds together in her sculpture
In 2019, artist of Kenyan origin Wangechi Mutu made history with the installation of its glittering bronze sculptures flanking the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, marking the first time since the building’s completion in 1902 that independent works of art have occupied the space.
The NewOnes, will set us free (2019), as the work was called, were caryatids—Traditional female sculptures intended to provide metaphorical and physical support. But in Mutu’s reimagining, instead of passively supporting them, they are freed from their historical place of bondage, presented as individuals of strength and beauty, bringing a perspective of feminist autonomy.
The artist’s two-decade career has been one of exploration and innovation. Mutu’s body of work ranges from fluid watercolor collages to sculpture, capturing his experience and respect for the natural world while infusing themes of the supernatural and mythology.
In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of his Extended game series, Mutu is filmed in her studio in Nairobi, where a series of works from different media are in progress. In the video, the artist describes her childhood in Kenya, where she attended a Catholic girls’ school that exuded “all kinds of feminine energy.” Mutu muses on the contradictions of his upbringing, because during the 1970s and 1980s students learned British and European history, but not African history or literature, as a large part of the Kenyan population was Christianized .
This gap in his education sparked the artist’s interest in other contradictions within various cultures. One of the most obvious and disconcerting for the artist, was how “We adore the image of the woman but denigrate the real human being of the woman,” a fact which she says is “obviously something that has tormented us for a long time”. Other tensions she found through photography, which she describes as an invaluable tool for her work, often serving as the backdrop for her dense collages and paintings.
Mutu began to explore how photography and colonization developed in tandem. “The other was photographed, packaged and consumed” Mutu says. “Seeing yourself represented in this way had an impact on you as the colonized ‘other’ and on how your image essentially became who you were. “
Currently, at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, Mutu’s collages, paintings, and human-animal sculptural forms are installed in the museum’s classical architecture and Western art, defying its dominant atmosphere. “When there is a singular voice or story,” Mutu explains, “she tends to be domineering, problematic and often fictional.”
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21 Extended play series, below. “Wangechi Mutu: I’m talking, are you listening?»Is visible at the Musée de la Légion d’honneur until November 7, 2021.
This is a part of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 which offers you clips of current artists. A new series in the flagship series of the nonprofit Art21 Art in the Twenty-First Century is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes from other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and find out about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org
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