Selected works by Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu
Adult Female Sexual Organs

2005

packing tape, fur, collage on found medical illustration paper

46 x 31cm

Wangechi Mutu observes: “Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.” Piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces and found materials, Mutu’s collages explore the split nature of cultural identity, referencing colonial history, fashion and contemporary African politics. In Adult Female Sexual Organs, Mutu uses a Victorian medical diagram as a base: an archetype of biased anthropology and sexual repression. The head is a caricatured mask – made of packing tape, its material makes reference to bandages, migration, and cheap ‘quick-fix’ solutions. Mutu portrays the inner and outer ideals of self with physical attributes clipped from lifestyle magazines: the woman’s face being a racial distortion, her mind occupied by a prototypical white model. Drawing from the aesthetics of traditional African crafts, Mutu engages in her own form of story telling; her works document the contemporary myth-making of endangered cultural heritage. 

Quote from: Merrily Kerr, Wangechi Mutu's Extreme Makeovers, Art On Paper, Vol.8, No. 6, July/August 2004. posted on: 

http://www.akrylic.com/contemporary_art_article73.htm

Wangechi Mutu
Cancer Of The Uterus

2005

Glitter, fur, collage on found medical illustration pape

46 x 31cm

Wangechi Mutu’s collages seem both ancient and futuristic; her figures aspire as a super-race, by-products of a troubled and imposed evolution. In Cancer of the Uterus, her figure is an ominous goddess; pasted over a pathology diagram, her portrait is diseased at the core. Mutu uses materials which make reference to African identity and political strife: her dazzling black glitter is an abyss of western desire, which allude to the illegal diamond trade and its consequences of oppression and war. From corruption and violence, Mutu creates a glamorous beauty; her figures empowered by their survivalist adjustment to atrocity, made immune and ‘improved’ by horror and being victims.

Wangechi Mutu
Complete Prolapsus of the Uterus

2004

Glitter, ink, collage on found medical illustration paper

46 x 31cm

Wangechi Mutu trained as both a sculptor and anthropologist. Complete Prolapsus of the Uterus illustrates the marriage of these interests. Through collage, Mutu capitalised on the two-sided nature of her materials, conveying both the content and physicality of their sources. In using old medical diagrams, her collages carry the authenticity of artefact, as well as an appointed cultural value. In Complete Prolapsus of the Uterus Mutu contrives a racial hybrid: a puckered, prudish white face masks an ancient tribal wisdom. Mutu examines how ideology is implicitly tied to corporeal form. She cites a European preference of physique, inflicted on and adapted by Africans, resulting in hierarchical difference and genocide.

Wangechi Mutu
Ectopic Pregnancy

2004

Glitter, ink, collage on found medical illustration paper

46 x 31cm

Wangechi Mutu’s collage process mimics amputation, transplant operations and torturous prosthetics. Her figures become parody mutilations, their forms grotesquely marred through perverse modification, echoing the atrocities of war or self-inflicted improvements of plastic surgery. In Ectopic Pregnancy, Mutu converts an image of reproductive malfunction into a stillborn expression; the mouth/vagina bloodied and empty, her scarred figure struggling to voice her identity. Mutu designs this portrait with sex-organs as face, dressed up with glistening hair and lip-gloss: a freakish pastiche of feminine ideals.

Wangechi Mutu
Uterine Catarrh

2004

Glitter, ink, collage on found medical illustration paper

46 x 31cm

“There's this constant movement towards historicising Africa, turning it into this archaic place.” Wangechi Mutu explains, “… Part of my challenge…is to envision, not so much blackness as a race, but the existence of African elements in culture in the future and how is that possible.” The figure in Mutu’s Uterine Catarrh is both shaman and cyborg. Composed on antique paper, her figure shifts between totem and technological invention, the yellowed ground giving an aura of historical reverence to the modern gleen of shiny magazine cartridge. Mutu wittily positions the figure over her found medical illustration, rendering it with a ‘third eye’; a speculum portal of wisdom and vision.

Wangechi Mutu
Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumours

2004

Glitter, ink, collage on found medical illustration paper

46 x 31cm

In Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, Wangechi Mutu readily confuses epidemiology with anthropological classification. Mutu satirically identifies her ‘disease’ as a sub/post-human monster, an equally primitive and prophetically alien species. Repulsive and ludicrous, Mutu’s figure is also controversially attractive: its fur face and stardust afro an epitome of funkadelic chic. Histology… embodies a notion of identity crisis, where origination and ownership of cultural signifiers becomes an unsettling and disputed terrain.

Wangechi Mutu
Tumours of the Uterus

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

In her series Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumour, Wangechi Mutu uses 19th century medical diagrams as a basis for invented portraiture. The original illustrations, symbolic of colonial power, suggest a wide range of cultural pre-conceptions: from the ‘superiority’ of European ‘knowledge’ to the classification of nature (and consequently race) into genealogical hierarchies. In Uterine Tumor, Mutu challenges these imposed values, using physical disease as a metaphor for social corruption.

Wangechi Mutu
Indurated Ulcers of the Cervix

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

Pasting images taken from porn and fashion magazines over a prudish diagram of vaginal infections, Wangechi Mutu examines the perception of female sexuality. Her amalgamated portrait capitalises on the contradictions of role expectations: as western media ideal, sex goddess, and mother. Contorted in anger and crowned by black diamond dust, Mutu’s figure becomes both victim and warrior, alluding to the repercussions of female exploitation in both Africa and the west: from prostitution to sexual war crimes.

Wangechi Mutu
Fibroid Tumors of the Uterus

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

Encapsulating the shifting identity of African culture, Wangechi Mutu draws upon existing stereotypes to construct a ‘new and improved’ race reflective of traditional values, survival of historical oppression, and thriving participation in global trend. Her Uterine Tumour portrays a figure derived of cross-cultural sources: sensuous too-big lips, suntanned gam, funky glitter, and too-cool shades pasted over a found medical diagram creates a strong and tres chic character, master of his own endemiology.

Wangechi Mutu
Cervical Hypertrophy

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

Wangechi Mutu’s collages confront with brutal aggression; her pastiched characters become perverse amalgamations of physical and cultural ‘ideals’. In Uterine Tumour, Mutu’s male figure is assembled of mismatched body parts clipped from magazines, each an isolated feature of epitomised beauty: chiselled cheekbones, kiss-me lips, petite ears, and smouldering eyes. Together, they become a grotesque mask of racial parody. Centred over a medical illustration, her composite of physical ‘perfection’ becomes a model of contamination.

Wangechi Mutu
Primary Syphilitic Ulcers of the Cervix

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

Wangechi Mutu harnesses the fear of the unfamiliar as a tool of power. Formed from cut and paste, Mutu’s creations are hybrids of multiple sources referencing the scars of cultural imposition. Placed atop medical diagrams, they feed off their cancerous classifications, directly confronting cultural preconception and bias. Set around image of an invasive gynaecological procedure, the woman in Primary Syphilitic Ulcers of the Cervix garners her strength from the source of her molestation. Disaffected and immune, Mutu’s distressing figure is comprised of the horrific myths of our own making.

Wangechi Mutu
Ovarian Cysts

2005

Collage on found medical illustration paper

45.7 x 32.4cm

Wangechi Mutu uses collage as a metaphor for the shifting concepts of global identity. In Ovarian Cysts Mutu unites a medical diagram, an archaeological photograph, and kitsch advertisement within a glittery death-head; each element conveying disjointed and dislocated associations of Africa. Drawing from colonialism, ancient history, contemporary politics, and lifestyle ideals, Mutu creates an emblem of tribute, encompassing both a tormented past and powerful future.

Wangechi Mutu
Mask

2006

Mixed media and collage

16.5 x 12.7 cm

Wangechi Mutu’s Mask draws provocative comparison between archaeology and sexual fetishism. Pasted over the photo of a museum relic, her saucy model becomes a temptress of caricatured exotica. Encasing the woman’s body and face in a cut out of a voodoo sculpture, Mutu envelops her cover girl as a product of typecast desire and roleplay: warrior-princess, s&m freak, chastity-belted virgin. Overlapping the controversial facets of cultural association, Mutu’s figure beacons as a subversive dominatrix, shrewdly co-opting the rules of hierarchy, power, and manipulation.

Wangechi Mutu
Backlash Blues

2004

Ink, acrylic, photocollage, contact paper, on mylar

198 x 119.4 cm

Painted on mylar, Wangechi Mutu’s Backlash Blues conveys an otherworldly quality: the paint and ink suspends on the plasticy vellum-like surface with an unnatural luminosity. Using a variety of techniques from airbrush to stencilling, controlled spills, and detailed brushwork, Mutu’s image poses as a composite of gesture; collaged photographic elements merge seamlessly into the painterly aesthetic. Incorporating both the organic patterns of dyed fabric and the exaggerated flourish of fashion illustration, Mutu’s wild figure exudes an apocalyptic glamour, fusing tribal ‘primitivism’ with the exotica of radical chic.

Wangechi Mutu
My Strength Lies

2006

ink, acrylic, photo collage, contact paper, on Mylar

228.6 x 137.2 cm
Wangechi Mutu
Ghouls On My Back Celebrate Murder

2003

Mixed media on mylar

90 x 61 cm

Wangechi Mutu uses collage as a means of both physically and conceptually bringing layered depth to her work. Using images cut from fashion magazines, National Geographic, and books about African art, Mutu pieces together figures which are both elegant and perverse. Individual body parts comprised of found ’objects’ are made to seem like odd prosthetics glued over torsos and limbs drawn in ink. 

In Untitled, Mutu’s surface uses these conflicting textures to draw a wide range of connotations: from glamour models, to dyed fabrics, diseased skin, and science fiction special effects. Her goddess-like figure becomes an embodiment of the disjointed facets of modern Africa, caught in the flux of Western preconception, internal turmoil, ancient tradition, and blossoming future.

Wangechi Mutu
Untitled

2004

Mixed media collage and painting on vellum

44.5 x 47 cm

In Untitled, Wangechi Mutu creates a glamorous, yet barbaric centrefold. Working in painting and collage on paper, Mutu exploits the physical qualities of her media to create a self-referential sensuality: the translucent crispness of the vellum relates easily to film, spilled paint stains diffuse as the subtle bruised texture of skin, and cut out blond hair and gams lend an appropriated lusty ideal. In picturing female sexuality, Mutu offers a futuristic totality of womanhood that’s both fiery and liberated. Comprised of motorcycle parts, she’s a machine built for speed: corpulent, sexy, with the dazzling power creation.


Articles

THE AFRICANA QA: ARTIST WANGECHI MUTU
By Aida Mashaka Croal

Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu isn't interested in pretty pictures. In her absurdist collages she takes magazine images of women and makes them almost monstrous. Her figures boast transplanted eyes that seem too large, too small, too far apart or too close together to be human. She uses textured paper to create ornate headdresses that bring horns to mind, or the hair of some Star Trek alien. Patterned sheets render skin echoing satellite photos of outer space. Mutu's "Profile" series subverts the Western portrait in every way - there are no seamless oil renderings here, nor the attempt to recreate that aesthetic - yet her figures maintain a curious appeal. A freak like me might even call them beautiful and then wonder what the heck is "too small," "too large" or "too far apart to be human." This is a large part of Mutu's point. The Kenyan raised, US trained artist (she's got degrees in the arts from Cooper Union and Yale Universities) likes to trap her viewers with layers of visual metaphor, forcing them to question assumptions about race, gender, geography, history and beauty. A trained sculptor and anthropologist, Mutu's work has evolved from faux-artifact making (back when she favored sculpture) to a collage process that collides everyday images with mythological and historical narrative. "Creatures," currently on exhibit at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens, NY, is a comprehensive showcase of Mutu's work of the past year, featuring numerous "portraits" and full body figures as well as sculptural elements (horns figure prominently).

We met a few days before the exhibit was set to open, and talked while she was busily working to install one of the show's most ambitious offerings - a mural featuring a large double-headed snake-like creature whose body traces a fictive journey from the North to the South of Africa.

Read the entire article here
Source: archive.blackvoices.com


OUT OF AFRICA FEMALE FORMS THAT TELL A TALE OF TORTURE
By Michelle Weinberg

The collage drawings of female figures by Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu on view at Miami Art Museum are harsh and seductive, violent yet beautiful. Collectively titled "Amazing Grace," their mottled surfaces glitter like distant planets, like microscopic organisms or rare fungi. They are ephemeral but also monumental in size (many drawings measure 86 by 51 inches). Her images feature weblike tangles created by plants and their roots, out of which humanoid forms twitch and jive, seemingly elastic and animated. A certain science-fiction element pervades some of these works, causing images of body-snatching aliens and swamp things to haunt the imagination. The women Mutu depicts could be zombified witches or innocent victims of real violence. The artist observed that "Females carry the marks, language, and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body." This duality of desire and repulsion keeps her work vibrating in the psyche.
It's easy to get lost in the blotchy surfaces of skin that Mutu has created for her female figures, vixens both as glamorous and reptilian as a leotarded David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust days. She covers Mylar drafting film in ink washes of reds and earth tones that flow and congeal like splats of blood as they coagulate on the surface. Sometimes Mutu creates an airbrushlike sheen by spraying millions of particles onto those enormous sheets of Mylar. References to scarification of the body, plastic surgery, prostheses, and pathology derive from Mutu's anthropological training. In spite of the dispassionate remove with which she examines her subjects -- reflecting her academic and data-sifting side, the scientist within conducting an autopsy -- she manages to bring a complexity of feeling to this forensic occupation.

Read the entire article here
Source: miaminewtimes.com


WANGECHI MUTU'S EXTREME MAKEOVERS
Art On Paper, Vol.8, No. 6, July/August 2004 By Merrily Kerr

Her studio was just as I expected: body parts littered everywhere, a tray full of lips on the table, a pair of sleek legs in strappy heels affixed to the wall. In the telling, Wangechi Mutu's workspace at The Studio Museum in Harlem, where she is a resident artist, sounds like a campy crime scene. In fact, it is a sort of laboratory in which she uses collage and drawing on paper and Mylar to inscribe real crime stories onto hybrid bodies. "Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male," says Mutu. "Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body." This includes everything from the violence perpetrated against innocent civilians in war zones to the 'modifications' made in order to follow fashion.
Artists from Cindy Sherman to Orlan have explored the chameleon-like nature of female bodies for decades. So what makes Mutu's work unique? Apart from being skilled in montage she coherently refers to race, politics, fashion, and African identity in portraits that pack an aesthetic punch. This cocktail of influences strongly recalls Weimar artist Hannah Hoch's collages of African artifacts and European bodies in her portrait series, From an Ethnographic Museum. But Hoch's montages beg the question, like ethnography itself, of whether her then-colonial subjects themselves are represented as they think they are or in a manner that reflects Hoch's view of them. Eighty years later, an artist who was raised in Kenya and has traveled and lived overseas ever since, gives an answer as complex as her experience.
After completing her MFA at Yale in 2000, Mutu found herself in New York without the school's resources and faced with a crisis of direction. With pen and paper as her chief art supplies, she created the Pin Up Series (2001), which established her interest in adaptable female bodies. In two grids of twelve small images, topless women preen and posture for the viewer like calendar girls. "I wanted you to walk up to them assuming you were going to see these pretty, interestingly posed females," explains Mutu. "It takes people some time to see that every single one of them has some trauma or alteration that is severe and aggressive." The women, who strike come-hither poses, are amputees. The series was inspired by violence in Sierra Leone, where an illegal diamond trade fueled fighting that maimed many civilians - in effect, trading one person's well-being for another's beauty.

Read the entire article here
Source: akrylic.com