b. 1972, Kenya

Wangechi Mutu Biography

Known for her collage works, videos, and sculptures, Wangechi Mutu explores issues of gender, race, colonialism, and the Black female body.

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Since the 1990s, her surreal artworks have focused on creating haunting and sometimes grotesque characters to question systems of power and aesthetic conventions.

Inspired by her upbringing in Kenya and her life as an African woman in modern Western society, she draws inspiration from a diverse range of sources such as the fashion industry, pornography, politics, and science fiction.

Life and Work

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu migrated to the United States in the 1990s. She holds an MFA in Sculpture from Yale University School of Art.

In her practice, Mutu has worked extensively with installation and video. Known also for her collage works, she often combines found materials, magazine cut-outs, random images, and objects as a way to deal with everyday contemporary life in the West. Impacted by a variety of available genres in cultural media—specifically magazines and films—and their lack of African representation, Mutu's art is a rebuke to the defined interpretation of beauty.

She has been featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2019, for which she produced a series of sculptures interrogating human relationships to nature and legacies of colonialism. Also in 2019, Mutu was elected for the inaugural The Met Facade Commisssion, producing The NewOnes, will free Us, the first site-specific installation ever to be presented on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's historic exterior. These installations were the artist's symbol of hope and dignity as an African migrant at a time of political change under new presidency in the United States.

Regarded for her self-proclaimed 'maximalist aesthetic', her wall-based installation A Promise to Communicate (2018) employed grey rescue blankets used by humanitarian aid efforts to reinterpret the world map. Commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston, it created a space for visitors to explore ideas of free speech and open communication about sensitive and fundamental global matters.

Her animated video The End of Eating Everything (2013) was presented the same year at Blanton Museum of Art in Austin. It features the singer Santigold as a post-apocalyptic, monstrous being hovering in darkness. Her tumour-like body covered with machine parts and human limbs emits smoke as she greedily wanders among a flock of birds, a reference to the destructive and self-imposed nature of our drive to consume.

Mutu is also known for her collage works. In series such as 'Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors' (2006), Mutu draws from 19th-century medical diagrams, fashion magazines, scientific periodicals, pornographic references, and photographs to explore colonial history, politics, and issues of female identity.

Exhibitions and Awards

In 2012, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University held Mutu's first survey in the United States. The exhibition, entitled A Fantastic Journey, presented over 50 works made since the mid 1990s, including collage, drawings, sculpture, installation, and video. The exhibition later travelled to the Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Illinois.

Wangechi Mutu's works have been presented extensively around the world in venues such as The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2020); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020); Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (2019); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2019); Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), Rome (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art, Cape Town (2017); Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2013); Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (2012); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2012); Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2010); Tate Liverpool (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2009); and Kunsthalle Wein, Vienna (2008).

Her work was featured at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). In 2010, Mutu was the recipient of the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year award.

Leila Sajjadi | Ocula | 2021

Wangechi Mutu Featured Artworks

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Growth III by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Wangechi Mutu Growth III, 2017 Watercolour and glitter on paper
72.1 x 56.8 x 4.4 cm
Gladstone Gallery Enquire
Chicken Pox by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Wangechi Mutu Chicken Pox, 2016 Red soil, paper pulp, and wood glue
54 x 54 x 54 cm
Gladstone Gallery Enquire
god hands by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu god hands, 2017 Paper pulp, soil, wood glue, and wood 2 parts
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Mirror by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu Mirror, 2016 Paper pulp, soil, wood glue, and mirrors
20.75 x 15 x 9 inches
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Untitled (Virus) by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu Untitled (Virus), 2016 paper pulp, soil, and wood glue
17 x 17 x 17 inches
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Untitled (Virus) by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu Untitled (Virus), 2016 paper pulp, soil, and wood glue
17 x 17 x 17 inches
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Untitled (Virus) by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu Untitled (Virus), 2016 paper pulp, soil, and wood glue
17 x 17 x 17 inches
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Untitled (Virus) by Wangechi Mutu contemporary artwork sculpture
Wangechi Mutu Untitled (Virus), 2016 paper pulp, soil, and wood glue
17 x 17 x 17 inches
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery

Wangechi Mutu Recent Exhibitions

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Wangechi Mutu Represented By

Gladstone Gallery contemporary art gallery in 515 West 24th Street, New York, USA
Gladstone Gallery Brussels, New York, Seoul
Victoria Miro contemporary art gallery in Wharf Road, London, United Kingdom
Victoria Miro London, New York, Venice

Wangechi Mutu In Ocula Magazine

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Wangechi Mutu In Related Press

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