Celebrated Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu is enjoying the first US retrospective of her work at the Brooklyn Museum. A Fantastic Journey draws together key works from her 20-year career that explore recurring themes such as globalization, gender roles, conflict and the stigmatization of the black female body. Drawings, installations, video and a new animation starring Santigold as a voracious Medusa are displayed alongside Mutu’s signature large-scale collages. Harvesting imagery from such disparate sources as porn magazines, science fiction, fashion glossies, the National Geographic and African history books, she creates hybrid female forms inhabiting maximalist landscapes that expose the flaws of our consumerist society. “A lot of my work shows these humanoid, animal-type creatures sitting/standing on top of each other, like the caste systems that we have,” Mutu says. “As much as we talk about democracy and freedom, we still have no problem mistreating and devaluing people.”
Mutu was born in Nairobi, attended university at Cooper Union and Yale and currently lives in New York. She was unable to travel outside of the US for 12 years due to a protracted immigration process and only received her green card in 2012, making this landmark show in her adopted home even more poignant. “This notion of being a transplant, of leaving your home, self-exiling, which is different from being an asylum case or a refugee, is a huge part of my work,” Mutu says. Her displacement echoes the plight of many postcolonial African countries. Much like her collages, they have patched together new identities within borders imposed upon. “I’m creating fictional landscapes that tease out ideas which are mythologically and historically important to me. Trees play a big role in my work [because] as a Kenyan, as a Kikuyu, trees are central to our narratives of creation.” Tellingly, Mutu’s own roots continue to roam.
A Fantastic Journey runs until March 9th, 2014 at the Brooklyn Museum
Images: courtesy of Wangechi Mutu/Brooklyn Museum