“Ndoro Na Miti” at Gladstone Gallery
On the 26th of January, Wangechi Mutu will be exhibiting new work in a solo exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, New York. The show will consist of new sculpture in various media. This work will be on view at the gallery located 530 W. 21st Street from 26 January – 25 March 2017. While Wangechi has primarily been recognized for two-dimensional collage-paintings, her performance and sculpture works constitute a complimentary, equally important and critical mode of expression.
We would love to invite you to the opening on Thursday 26 January 6-8pm to view these new works that signify a new chapter in the Artist’s practice.
Greetings from Wangechi Mutu Studio, where we have started an exciting new movement – a campaign where art and activism converge, called Africa’s Out! Founded by Artist and Activist, Wangechi Mutu, Africa’s Out! is a dynamic, far-reaching platform to initiate, create, and make happen the radical ideas that change the way we ALL engage with Africa and, more specifically, the way Africans reach out to empower one another.
Our inaugural celebration of Africa’s Out! took place on June 5th, 2015 at Barbara Gladstone gallery and supported and celebrated the rights, lives, and creative freedom of African LGBTQI individuals in an effort to ensure that we can all exist with love, pride, and courage.
“When I conceived of Africa’s Out!, the idea I had was that no one should be silenced, hidden, left behind or punished for their uniqueness and individuality! Africans everywhere should have their rights protected no matter who they are, and the recent criminalization of gays in Africa is making it dangerous and impossible for many simply to exist. I decided to co-host the first ever Africa’s Out! celebration on June 5th at Gladstone Gallery to focus on enlightening people about equal rights for gay Africans since this issue is most urgent!” -Wangechi Mutu
The event was not only a massive show of solidarity for our African LGBTQI family, but was also an important fundraiser for UHAI EASHRI, one of the most dynamic organizations doing unique and often dangerous work on behalf of sexuality and gender minorities in Africa.
UHAI : in Swahili means life, or the essence of; the manifestation and the foundation of the being
EASHRI : stands for East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative.
UHAI EASHRI is an incredible organization based in Nairobi that provides funding to support a ton of activist work around issues of sexuality, health and human rights in the East African region. Their focus on the rights of sexual minorities is extremely important and unique. UHAI is the largest provider of grants and capacity support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and organizations in the five East African countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. UHAI is run by Executive Director, Wanja Muguongo, who held an integral role in the recent overturning of Uganda’s anti-gay law.
“This event produced by Africa’s Out! is very dear to my heart and was inspired both by Wanja Muguongo’s work with UHAI EASHRI and also the public coming out of my close friend, writer/activist Binyavanga Wainaina. On January 18, 2014, through a symbolic letter to his Mother published online, Binyavanga pronounced that he is gay. It was the ‘lost’ chapter of a book he’d published two years before, called “One Day I’ll Write About This Place”, for which I helped design the cover. Only one week prior to Binyavanga’s letter, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan passed a flat-out anti-gay law, which makes same-sex relationships illegal, punishable with up to 14 years in prison. Uganda passed a similar law on February 24, 2014, punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life imprisonment (revised from an earlier proposal of the bill, in which individuals would receive the death penalty). With this sort of climate rampant throughout the continent and the world, our action is more important now than ever. I am so very proud of all the courageous Artists and culture producers who have joined us in this effort – the first ever Africa’s Out! fundraising benefit.”
Wangechi Mutu Founder, Africa’s Out!
Over forty world-renowned visual artists joined the mission and consolidated efforts to gather their cultural might and to take a powerful stand in the quest for sexual equality within Africa. Donating artists were Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, David Antonio Cruz, Edgar Arceneaux, Firelei Baez, Rina Banerjee, Hank Willis Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Saya Woolfalk, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Alexandria Smith, Shinique Smith, Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Sanford Biggers, Nayland Blake, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Phoebe Boswell, Zoe Buckman, Caitlin Cherry, Brandon Coley Cox, Renee Cox, Kambui Olujimi, Valerie Piraino, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Shirin Neshat, Rashaad Newsome, Tameka Norris, Toyin Odutola, Leonardo Drew, Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Charles Gaines, Kira Lynn Harris, Heather Hart, Richard Hawkins, Duron Jackson, Rashid Johnson, Titus Kaphar, Yashua Klos, Simone Leigh, Julie Mehretu, Sam Messer, Marilyn Minter and Zanele Muholi. Each donated artwork was hung in a beautifully curated exhibition for the duration of the event, and the night was brought to life by exclusive live musical performances by Solange Knowles, Cakes Da Killa, and DJ sets by Venus X, DJ Cuppy, and Electric Punanny.
Africa’s Out! will continue to produce beautiful radical events, exhibitions and moments inspired by our very own creativity highlighting Africa’s diversity and multifaceted brilliance.
Big thanks to our many wonderful guests and to all who contributed their time and effort to making the event such a great success and also to our event photographers BFA, Jesper Bundgaard, Richard Burrowes, Jamaal Levine and Quistyle!
Nguva na NyokaWe’ve just returned form London, where we presented Wangechi Mutu’s new series of collage paintings, sculpture and video work in the exhibition titled, Nguva na Nyoka, at Victoria Miro Gallery.
Wangechi kicked off her week in London by delivering an incredibly well received talk at Tate Modern with curator, Zoe Whitley, in which they discussed the context for Wangechi’s exhibition at Victoria Miro. Translating to Sirens and Serpents from the original Kiswahili phrase Nguva na Nyoka and on view through December 19th, the new works were debuted at a lovely tea and champagne reception organized by the gallery, and attended by Studio Museum Chief Curator and Director, Thelma Golden, artist Kerry James Marshall (whose beautiful show of paintings, Look/See, can be seen at David Zwirner’s London space) and many others.
The excitement and energy surrounding the show grew during our opening night celebrations, held a couple of days later. Guests were encouraged to participate in a one-night-only performance piece, in which custom-made Wangechi Mutu chocolate mermaids were served throughout the night – with the stipulation that guests could only take home a mermaid after snapping a photo of their first bite, lick, taste – Wangechi’s take on the public consumption of brown bodies. Thank you to art-world greats, Yinka Shonibare, Oscar Murillo, Satch Hoyt, Njideka Akunyili, Hank Willis Thomas, Mary Boone, Ed Nahem, Phoebe Boswell, Binyavanga Wainaina, and more for your participation! Search for hashtags #mutumermaids and #chocolatemermaids to see the full set of photos.
The night ended with a bang when the legendary, amazing Grace Jones graced us with her presence, proclaiming, “You know I’m a Watah Woman!?” after laying eyes on Wangechi’s viciously beautiful serpent and video. After which Wangechi responded, “But of course, come step in!”
Our opening celebrations were chronicled through our exciting one day Instagram takeover of Harper’s Bazaar UK, to coincide with Wangechi’s 2010 collage, Humming, gracing the cover of the most recent issue of Bazaar Art. Some highlights of our prep included visiting the absolutely gorgeous shop of incredible designer, Duro Olowu, and receiving Wangechi Mutu-inspired manicures from Boom Nails LDN! The exhibition has garnered a great deal of press, including a spread in Elephant Magazine and an in-depth interview with Teju Cole for The Guardian. The show is also accompanied by a beautiful exhibition catalogue of images of the new work and two essays, written by scholars Adrienne Edwards and Binyavanga Wainaina.
Wangechi concluded her UK adventure with a delicious dinner hosted by predominant collector Sindika Dokolo and designer Ozwald Boateng at Café Royale celebrating the 1:54 Contemporary African Arts Fair. Wangechi had the pleasure of meeting fellow diners, Erika Dayla Massaquoi, Alek Wek, ASA the musician, Hank Willis Thomas and of course the very gracious Sindika and Isabel his wife, whose foundation, Fundaçao Sindika Dokolo is the main sponsor of 1:54 Contemporary African Arts Fair.
Back home in the States, A Fantastic Journey has made its final stop at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University. Thank you to Museum Director, Lisa Corrin and the whole museum staff for your continued enthusiasm and support of Wangechi’s vision. Be sure to view this Chicago-based exhibition before the collages, highlights of Wangechi’s career to date, are returned to their collectors across the globe after December 7th! Visitors to the Block will also see a collage previously not included in the show – Wangechi’s spectacular Fallen Heads (2010), on loan from local collectors Paul and Linda Gotskind.
Wangechi’s 2012 collage, The storm has finally made it out of me Alhamdulillah, can be seen at the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum as part of the exhibition, Divine Comedy, organized by Simon Njami. Check out her interview with the Huffington Post here. This show will travel to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in early 2015, where Wangechi will also have a two-person show with performer and choreographer, Nora Chipaumire, later next year. Wangechi’s first animated film, The End of eating Everything (2013), is in the Cape Town-based exhibition, King’s County, at Stevenson Gallery, which received a great write-up in The New York Times!
As art and activism are intertwined in our minds, Wangechi Mutu Studio is incredibly proud to announce the first ever Africa’s Out! celebration, which we are organizing this January 2015 as the inaugural event for an ongoing movement. The Africa’s Out! movement will be a shout-out of love and solidarity for our African LGBTI brothers and sisters, with this January’s event serving as a fundraiser for UHAI EASHRI, a Kenyan based activist organization which gives financial support to LGBTI causes and individuals throughout East Africa. Also at this event, writer and activist, Binyavanga Wainaina will be honored for his courageous public coming out through a “lost chapter” of his memoirs in the form of a letter to his mother. Since that time, he has been named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 People of the Year, and also inspired the launch of this Africa’s Out! event. Follow Africa’s Out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for exciting updates as this comes to fruition. We are thrilled that the artworld has rallied for this cause, and that we can count Julie Mehretu, Simone Leigh, Edgar Arceneaux, Yinka Shonibare, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas and Gladstone Gallery (among many others) as ambassadors for this extremely important cause. With an increasingly troubling atmosphere rampant throughout the continent, our action is more important now than ever.
Thanks to everyone who has supported us throughout the past year. Stay tuned for much more to come!
Spring into 2014 with Wangechi Mutu Studio!“Every exhibition in some way must transform and be reconfigured to best fit into new spaces at travel venues. [F]or this show, Wangechi and I had exploration and discovery specifically in mind from the beginning.” -Trevor Schoonmaker for
This past Spring saw Wangechi Mutu Studio’s broadreaching work traverse four continents. Wangechi’s first animated film, The End of eating Everything (2013), held its European premiere in Sweden, at the CinemAfrica Film Festival this March. To open the Festival, Wangechi gave a talk with filmmaker friends Zina Saro-Wiwa and Frances Bodomo at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. She then went on to speak with Bisi Silva at Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst, where her work is included in the Divine Comedy exhibition, organized by Simon Njami and up through July 27th. Also in Frankfurt until late July, one of Wangechi’s collages can be seen in the group show, Death Is Your Body at the Frankfurter Kunstverein.
While in Europe, Wangechi was able to attend the opening of Haute Africa: The Belgium Festival of Photography, for which she created a site-specific installation piece shown at the St. Margareta Church in Knokke-Heist. Returning to this part of the world in May to enjoy a week-long residency at Edition Copenhagen, Wangechi learned about the techniques of lithography from Master Printer Rasmus Urwald and produced a new series of prints.
Also in May, Wangechi travelled to Senegal, to exhibit The End of eating Everything for its African debut at the 11th Dakar Biennial. While in Dakar, she was happily accompanied by several African artists and biennial participants, Julie Mehretu, Aida Muluneh and Simone Leigh, as well as her good friend, writer/activist, Binyavanga Wainaina. The film can be seen again on the Southern tip of the continent this October, both in the Lusaka International Film Festival (Zambia) and in the King’s County exhibition at Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town.
Cutting (2004), is currently on view in Conflict: Contemporary Responses to War, which opened at the University of Queensland Art Museum (Brisbane) nearly one year after Wangechi Mutu Studio’s Australian exhibition debut at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Conflict is on view until September 7th, 2014.
Throughout all of her travels, Wangechi has maintained her commitment to honor the 20th anniversary of the 100-day Rwandan genocide. Choosing an image-based way in which to express a response, the Studio has posted a photograph on Instagram with the hashtags #kiwibuka20 and #100days each day since April 6th, the day on which the genocide began twenty years ago. Inspired by this memorial project, poet Juliane Okot Bitek has been writing daily poems of remembrance in tandem with Wangechi’s images. The project will continue through July, and we hope that you will join us in reflecting on the many lives lost.
Although the studio’s scope has been global, we’ve also been working on many important projects and exhibitions here in the States. A Fantastic Journey has continued its path at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Surrounding the April opening, curator of the exhibition, Trevor Schoonmaker, hosted a talk with Wangechi; and museum goers were able to experience a one-night-only performance piece by Wanda Ortiz, commissioned specifically for the show. Open through July 6th, this stop of the exhibition features a collage from 2005, You tried so hard to make us away, on loan from the Perez Art Museum in Miami.
A Fantastic Journey travels next to the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. Viewers will be afforded a sneak-peek beginning July 8th, with The End of eating Everything serving as a preview to the entire show, which opens to the public on September 27th. Neighboring A Fantastic Journey at the Block, collage work Tiny Split Character (2003) can be seen in Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, through October 5th.
The Studio was pleased to represent one of several artists to participate in Black Eye, the Soho pop-up show up for the month of May, which included Wangechi’s video installation, Eat Cake (2012). Organized by curator Nicola Vassell, the show’s opening was extremely well attended… we’re sure we saw you in the crowd!
May also marked the launch of the Born Free Campaign, targeted at nullifying the transmission of HIV from mother to child by the end of 2015, in part through a limited edition clothing line featuring textile images by Wangechi Mutu. Along with Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg, Liya Kebede, Born Free CEO, John Megrue, and Claire Danes, she was happy to host a Mother’s Day family picnic to celebrate the launch of the line. In Wangechi’s words for Vogue, “[I]t’s so great that someone has figured out a way to make these beautiful products, these pieces of clothing for sale, into messengers—disciples of this message about prevention of this transference of disease.” Nab the styles still left on ShopBop.com while you can – 100% of the proceeds go towards the cause!
We’ll be hopping back across the pond to London this October for the opening of Wangechi’s solo exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery. We are so excited to reveal a new series of large-scale collages that she is currently creating for this show, along with a remastered version of her video work, Nguva, featuring sound design by Pegasus Warning. If you are in London for Frieze week, please be sure to join us for the opening celebration and programming surrounding the exhibition, beginning with the October 9th talk with curator Zoe Whitley at Tate Modern. The show will open to the public on October 16th and run through December 2014.
Happy New Year from Wangechi Mutu Studio!
“Mutu refuses to give in to the mythology of woman as the seductress in the Garden of Eden. In her version of biblical history, the woman in the collage decapitates the snake by spiking him with her stiletto.” -Roslyn Bernstein for Guernica
Happy New Year from Wangechi Mutu Studio! As we prepare for the closing of A Fantastic Journey in our home city of Brooklyn, we’ve also embarked on a series of new endeavors and adventures. We are happy to announce today’s launch of the new wangechimutu.com! Feel free to dive into our behind-the-scenes view of Wangechi’s studio and world, which includes rarely seen images of work spanning two decades, clips of each of her films, an interactive book shelf, and more.
The studio team has loved having A Fantastic Journey so close to home at The Brooklyn Museum. Wangechi was able to bring the show to life with two filmed, in-gallery interviews for artnet and Okayafrica, and also gave an incredibly powerful artist’s talk in the museum with Nora Chipaumire and Adrienne Edwards. Additionally, she has taken this opportunity to introduce new and interesting audiences to her work, through exhibition tours with The Andy Warhol Foundation, the Ali Forney Center, Black Girls Rock!, and Artpace.
Before we say goodbye to A Fantastic Journey as it travels to its new home at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, we are very excited for the closing celebrations of the show in Brooklyn. We hope that you will join us on February 20th from 6:30-9:30pm for the Brooklyn Museum’s inaugural “Off the Wall” series. The event will explore Afrofuturism and celebrate Wangechi’s show through a multimedia performance by Daví, an interactive art event with Saya Woolfalk, a curator talk with Saisha Grayson, and an ongoing soundtrack by DJ Mursi Layne. We are also looking forward to closing out the last week of the show with the March 1st “Brooklyn Museum First Saturday: HERSTORY,” during which Venus X will spin an original mix, inspired by Wangechi’s work, from 9-10pm.
Though we’re fervently representing in our borough of Brooklyn, Wangechi’s span across New York is city-wide: be sure to catch her 2010 film, Shoe Shoe, on view in Metro Pictures’ Bad Conscience exhibition, which is up through February 22nd. We will also see you at 6:30pm on February 25th for a screening of Afropunk’s The Triptych at the Fashion Institute of Technology, followed by a conversation between Wangechi and Michaela Angela Davis; and finally don’t miss Wangechi’s next public lecture at the International Center of Photography on March 12th!
Currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum, The End of eating Everything has garnered a new, Midwestern audience after its week-long screening at the , was screened in tandem with Wangechi’s. We had a great time hanging in Utah with our fellow New York transplants who also had films in the festival – Barron Claiborne, Renee Cox, Kambui Olujimi, Hank Willis Thomas, Deb Willis, and Jacolby Satterwhite, whose 5-hour long performance piece truly invigorated his video installation, also a part of New Frontiers.
Up next, The End of eating Everything will be screened in the will feature Wangechi’s sculptural installation work, Metha (2010). Wangechi and her family then plan to attend the opening celebration of Haute Africa: The Belgium Festival of Photography, which includes Wangechi’s newest installation piece. After returning to her Brooklyn studios to continue work on the creation of a new series of collages for her upcoming show at Victoria Miro Gallery, Wangechi will jet set again in May – this time to attend the opening of the Dak’Art Biennial in Dakar, Senegal, and to participate in a printmaking residency at Edition Copenhagen.
We are also proud to announce Wangechi’s collaboration with the BORNFREE campaign, whose goal is to eradicate the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to baby by the end of 2015. Wangechi became involved with this cause when she was invited to design two textile patterns, which are being utilized by 23 unique, women designers, including Stella McCartney, Miuccia Prada, Diane von Furstenberg and more. With the help of Anna Wintour and Vogue Magazine, each designer is in the process of creating a line of mother and baby clothing, the proceeds of which will benefit the organization. Look out for the Mother’s Day 2014 launch!
A Fantastic Journey at The Brooklyn Museum
“My life’s journey is to continue thinking and mining this notion of femaleness, and feminism, and advocacy for women through the sort of fictional, sci-fi narratives that I create.” —Wangechi Mutu for Vogue.com
After heading to Russia to celebrate her participation in the 5th Moscow Biennale, Wangechi Mutu returned to Brooklyn last week for the opening of her first solo museum exhibition in New York City, entitled A Fantastic Journey. The show, a survey of Wangechi’s work from the mid-1990s to present, is on view at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art through March 9, 2014, and includes her signature large-scale collages, video works, sketchbook drawings, a site-specific wall drawing, and sculptural installations. Critics are already taking note, including a glowing review by Holland Cotter for The New York Times, in which he declares, “[Wangechi’s] giving us something more like an apocalyptic version of polymorphic perversity, a shot of the libidinal pleasure the art world so loves along with a series of fast, repeat jabs to the head it deserves.”
A Fantastic Journey also includes Wangechi’s first animation, The End of eating Everything (2013), featuring fellow Brooklynite Santigold. We’re proud to share that The End of eating Everything received the Audience Award for Favorite Experimental Film at the BlackStar Film Festival earlier this year! Also look forward to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the installation and opening night of A Fantastic Journey included in the upcoming documentary, Wangechi Mutu: A Necessary Madness, produced by MUSE Film and Television and directed by Anne Makepeace (watch the trailer here).
We hope you’ll join us at the Brooklyn Museum on October 17th, where DJ Reborn, Wunmi, and Venus X will get the party started in tribute to the exhibition and to the JUMP N FUNK movement originated by A Fantastic Journey curator, Trevor Schoonmaker. Also save the date for Brooklyn Museum First Saturday on December 7th, for which Wangechi selected Burnt Sugar and Pegasus Warning to perform in celebration of her show. While you’re at the museum, be sure to swing by the gift shop, where Wangechi’s collaborative t-shirt with AfroPunk, featuring an original sketch included in the exhibition, is available.
Wangechi’s work can be seen in other locations in New York City in the upcoming months. Her billboard, A Sunset Satire, designed for Socrates Sculpture Park, will be on view as the seasons change through March 2014. In addition, a new video work, Nguva, will premiere this November at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s highly anticipated group show, The Shadows Took Shape, opening November 14th.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney
2013 has been a year of firsts for Wangechi Mutu. Never having been able to view the myriad international exhibitions her work has been featured in, Wangechi was finally able to venture halfway across the world last month with her studio team and family in tow. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, where Wangechi’s monumental retrospective is on view through August 14, served as the launch pad for an exciting new stage of her career. It seems that two tiny moths from Brooklyn also tried to sneak into the celebration. The culprits were spotted among Wangechi’s art materials at the Australian border and labeled as a possible threat – the first review of Wangechi’s artwork upon reaching Australian shores!
The rest of Team WMStudio, who was holding down the Brooklyn fort, had the pleasure of attending the high-energy opening of The International Center of Photography’s Triennial, “A Different Kind of Order,” where Wangechi’s brand new 11-part collage, Girl Specimen Series is on view for the first time. A twelfth work in the series of specimen is also currently up for examination in the “Cinematic Visions” exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery in London. Additionally, Wangechi had the fun task of taking over ICP’s Instagram on her birthday this past June 22nd, while she enjoyed relaxing at collector Jerome Stern’s home. Mr. Stern’s Art Barn and surrounding woods served as a backdrop for Wangechi’s next art video, soon to be announced and released.
Wangechi recently travelled South to The Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina with Trevor Schoonmaker, Greg Tate, Mark Anthony Neal, and 9th Wonder to release the catalogue published in tandem with her solo show, “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey.” Next up, “A Fantastic Journey” will find a home at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art this coming October. This will be Wangechi’s first solo museum show in NYC. We can’t wait for the exhibition to touch down in Wangechi’s New York City headquarters this Fall… Stay tuned!
A Fantastic Journey at Nasher Museum
A Fantastic Journey opened this week at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina. The exhibition is Wangechi Mutu’s first solo museum show in the US and includes a stunning survey of 2D collage works as well as brand new pieces in multiple media. The exhibition is a true trip into Mutu’s world, which breaks the frame in a root system that threads through the space, stretching up to cover walls and reaching toward the ceiling in the form of a giant tree.
A dark, cave-like room opens up in the back of the museum and hosts a seventeen-foot video projection. The musician Santigold pokes her head onto the screen as the leading lady in this new animation, The End of Eating Everything Her character is an immense creature, a savage consumer and industrial polluter. She navigates a vast space alone until the breaking point of her own greedy system. You can watch the animation with an interview of Wangechi and Santigold on MOCAtv here
Wangechi’s sketches are also on view for the first time. These pen, ink and collage drawings from her notebooks allow viewers access to the thought processes and origins of her figures from 1995, when a notebook was the extent of her studio space, up through today.
A site-specific wall piece stands guard over the entrance and exit of the show. It depicts a hairy beast gesturing in greeting or casting a curse. A whole tale is contained in its title: Once upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies became afraid of her The End. To get a sense of the space watch the video here.
Last month, the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University was flooded with light and art enthusiasts for the very first time. Wangechi’s solo exhibition christened the space with a powerful convergence of visual art, music and poetry.
Three Huggers greeted guests as they entered the gallery. This giant collage set the stage, introducing themes that thread throughout the show. In it, a woman clings to an amputated tree trunk, wrestling with her own beautiful and dangerous appendages, as a vast celestial space opens up around her.
As you walked into the space, you met with a series of collages, including Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, in which age-old medical illustrations are resuscitated through new faces, and Bedroom Masks, in which postcards of traditional African masks are combined with images of black women in porn to emphasize their fetishisation and the conflation of these stereotypes.
You might only have gotten this far before a group of women with leaved headdresses and dance slippers ushered you through Wangechi’s Suspended Playtime, a field of low-hanging objects of plastic bags and twine, modeled after the soccer balls that children make when they can’t afford the store-bought kind.
The dancers then led you into a darker part of the gallery where four large video works were projected onto the walls and down onto shipping pallets. The Drexel Dance Ensemble performed a work in this space choreographed by Tania Isaac. The troupe had spent time developing the piece in the environment of the exhibition and incorporated the creatures and gestures present in Wangechi’s visual world into their movement.
Then Sonia Sanchez took the mic. The world-renowned poet, lecturer and pioneer of the Black Arts Movement talked about her exploration of Wangechi’s work and then shared her fruitful spoils. Sanchez has a longstanding romance with the haiku and began by reading a series works in this form inspired by Wangechi’s art. She then read a longer, free form poem accompanied by celebrated saxophonist Odean Pope, who has played with the likes of Max Roach, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. The poem itself was vast in scope, fluid as Wangechi’s visuals. It painted portraits of complex women such as those that encircled the crowd in glass frames and the artist who made them.
Nitarudi Ninarudi, I plan to return I am returning.
“Nitarudi Ninarudi, I plan to return I am returning.” opened on November 3rd to audience. The one night performance piece “Reverse Profiling” was held at the gallery entrance that very night. The exhibition will be on view till December 22nd, 2012 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232. Watch video here.
A review in the LA Times by David Popel come out on December 2012, click here to read.
“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”
In this new body of work, Mutu continues to address perceptions of conflicting cultural projections played out on the body through her contemplations on race and gender. Her hybrid beings, still fused and molded from plants, animals, machines, porn imagery and medical illustrations, are populating her collages in ever widening ranges of materials, but the tone of the work has shifted towards a deeper exploration and disclosure of the artist’s own experience in the Diaspora. In this exhibition, ideas around longing, memory, and exile resonate and subvert traditional notions of a singular place of origin. Fusing her Kenyan experience with inflections of other cultural influences, the work calls into question any notion of a static identity and firmly rejects the centralization and dominance of Eurocentric constructs within and outside of her homeland.
Nitarudi Ninarudi expresses the complexity of longing for a place that is alive in the memory in a very different way than in the physical reality – a place as evasive and fleeting as the identities one negotiates when they are relocated, bringing into play issues of transformation, translation, and even personal survival.
Wangechi Mutu’s interest in the subtle distinction between Nitarudi and Ninarudi is embedded in the ever-so-slight difference between the desire and promise to return, versus the absolute insistence and the capability to come back to a place. Home transforms from a condition of being exiled, into a place (due to the shift in circumstances) one can actually envision themselves in.
The dual existence, split identities, broody ambivalence, and the feeling of being inside a place, whilst trying to create a space for an alternate experience outside of that place, is captured in these new objects and painted collages, and their respective arrangements.
“An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when… the stranger enters the gates.”
“If you’re treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person.”
– James Baldwin
“Welcome to Reverse Profiling,” performed on November 3rd, 2012 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, created by Wangechi Mutu as part of
Nitarudi Ninarudi exhibition opening. A play on the absurdity of travel restrictions for a specifically targeted population, this one-night, site-specific piece aimed to isolate the gallery visitors who, according to those in a position of power, appear “American.” Dismantling the expected experience of entering American borders, two “WSA” agents singled out for further investigation only the visitors who are ordinarily privileged to pass through entrances of lobbies, airports, security checks, and country borders fluidly and unscathed. Guests generally contained to a minority status, whether it be those of Middle Eastern descent, African Americans, Africans, Latinos, or anyone considered a racial minority, were welcomed into the celebration with open arms. By making the seemingly familiar and “American” process of passing through a security check point completely foreign to a group that is favored in this environment, the gallery attendee is forced into the uncomfortable position of declared ‘alien,’ or ‘other.’
Profiling certain travelers has become a controversial yet increasingly popular tactic used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in its attempt to identify potential terrorists. In the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks, the US government implemented new security measures at all airports, targeting all passengers traveling to the US from abroad. Often referred to as the “behavior detection” program, this type of screening is a recipe for racial profiling, again targeting those labeled as minority.
For Wangechi, Reverse Profiling is definitely about being non-American. It’s about her experience of being African, from Kenya, and how The United States’ system of race consciousness and profiling compounds the immigrant experience by using such superficial phenotypes like hair, skin color, and dress as a basis to judge. “My personal desire to travel, create and live in an unrestricted manner has put such a strange twist on my sense of cultural/ national origin and has created this self-inflicted exile and now a returning ‘prodigal’ daughter-type person in a very complicated way. I always wanted to leave home, and yet I always intended and wanted to go back and forth between homes freely.”
According to a recent Associated Press report, more people are being detained and imprisoned as the government increasingly charges immigrants with federal crimes for repeatedly entering the country. Ten years ago, about 3,300 illegal immigrants were held in private prisons. Now, in 2012, that number has risen to more than 23,000.
“The need for a passport and adequate entry visas creates such a marker, a strange kind of invisible branding system placed upon those considered ‘alien’ to a particular place. You feel targeted and suspect because that’s the nature of Homeland Security – to target and alienate the aliens,” says Mutu. “ You’re always nervous and terrified. It humiliates differently than someone who is an American citizen. It puts one in a position where you want to say…’Don’t you know who I am, who my family is, where I’m from?’ ”