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Wangechi Mutu’s staggering collages transform the female body, making extensions that are sometimes human, animal, machine, and monster. Cut from magazines, found materials, and painted imagery, Mutu’s collaged creatures absorb the weight of a diverse sampling of both empowering and derogatory sources.
Says Mutu, “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.”
Her work gathers representations of African women in popular culture, from pornography, fashion spreads, science fiction and international politics. These forms encompass the grotesque (pesky flies, snakes, and amorphous vermin) as well as the glamorous (additions of sparkles and luxurious patterns).
The exhibition “A Fantastic Journey” at the Brooklyn Museum displays Mutu’s work as though it were a part of a mythical landscape. Tree trunks serve as beams, complementing the organic materials woven into some of Mutu’s pieces. Foiled against this is Suspended Play Time, sculptures of manmade materials such as garbage bags that hang from the ceiling.
Many of her large-scale works examine the relationship between women and nature. Root of all Eves is wordplay on the phrase “root of all evil” and a tribute to Eve, the original woman who sinned. In this piece an obscured mother form, still entwined to a fetus, is covered in blood, guts, and ants but given a pharaoh’s headdress. On one side, she is martyred and revered, and on the other she is connected to the nature and seen as part of the earth.
Mutu also collaborated with musician Santigold in her first-ever animated video, The End of Eating Everything, an Afro-futuristic film collage. A head floats outward with Medusa snakes writhing behind, and multiplying to form a trippy pattern. Mutu often fearlessly places herself in her videos, such as in the 2012 Eat Cake, a black-and-white video where she devours a chocolate cake in the woods.
Originally born in Kenya, Mutu was educated in Wales and New York before eventually earning her MFA from Yale University. She was trained as both a sculptor and an anthropologist, which lends insight into her process as a collage artist, who constructs new formations from previously made images.
“A Fantastic Journey” will be at The Brooklyn Museum through March 9, 2014.