Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu combines fashion magazine imagery and ink to create elegantly grotesque collages of the female body. Surreal and distinctive, the works at once reference ethnology, war, and portrayals of the female figure in mass media. Realized both on Mylar paper and directly on the wall, Mutu’s seductive hybrids—swan necks, talons for feet, distended bellies, mechanical appendages—use beauty to smuggle in the politics of violence and mutilation.
In the 1990s Mutu explored stereotypes of femininity and her African heritage through performative works. Since then she has primarily made drawings. That’s my death mask you’re wearing (2004) is emblematic of the collages—kaleidoscopic pools of reds and browns form a lithe female framed by tufts of savannah grass. The vamping body and magazine cutout eyes and lips imply glamour, yet swirls of ink create the impression of skin grafts. A missing arm, protruding prostheses, raw face, and heavy diamond earring support a darker narrative about the bloody effects of conflicts in Africa waged over scarce resources controlled by the West. Ever-sensuous, Mutu’s drawings are powerful critiques of contemporary media and cultural genocide.
Wangechi Mutu received her MFA from Yale University, New Haven, CT in 2000. Solo shows include Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, CA and Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning, Queens, NY, both in 2003. Group exhibitions in 2004 include Fight or Flight, Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York, NY; Pin-up, Tate Modern, London, England; and Figuratively, The Studio Museum, Harlem, NY. The artist lives in Brooklyn, NY.