about the exhibition
New Works 04.3
New York, NY
November 11, 2004–January 23, 2005about the artist
Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu combines fashion magazine imagery and ink to create elegantly grotesque collages of the female body. Surreal and distinctive, the works at once reference ethnology, war, and portrayals of the female figure in mass media. Realized both on Mylar paper and directly on the wall, Mutu's seductive hybrids—swan necks, talons for feet, distended bellies, mechanical appendages—use beauty to smuggle in the politics of violence and mutilation.
In the 1990s Mutu explored stereotypes of femininity and her African heritage through performative works. Since then she has primarily made drawings. That’s my death mask you’re wearing (2004) is emblematic of the collages—kaleidoscopic pools of reds and browns form a lithe female framed by tufts of savannah grass. The vamping body and magazine cutout eyes and lips imply glamour, yet swirls of ink create the impression of skin grafts. A missing arm, protruding prostheses, raw face, and heavy diamond earring support a darker narrative about the bloody effects of conflicts in Africa waged over scarce resources controlled by the West. Ever-sensuous, Mutu’s drawings are powerful critiques of contemporary media and cultural genocide.
Wangechi Mutu received her MFA from Yale University, New Haven, CT in 2000. Solo shows include Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, CA and Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning, Queens, NY, both in 2003. Group exhibitions in 2004 include Fight or Flight, Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York, NY; Pin-up, Tate Modern, London, England; and Figuratively, The Studio Museum, Harlem, NY. The artist lives in Brooklyn, NY.
about the project
With Hangin’ in Texas Mutu transitions from drawings to a re-engagement with performance. She combines collage with video and related objects in an installation that bears witness to scarred African refugees, is provoked by the execution lore of Texas, and ultimately makes a space for contemplating universal motives for killing.
Like a forest of deteriorating human bodies, suspended wine bottles drip pools of red onto the floor in Mutu’s space. Compounding the sense of mortality is a ripe odor and mass of stigmata-like wounds dug into walls. At the far end of the room is a wide and low video of a woman, the artist herself, in a rocky desert. She hacks at tree trunks with a machete; the ubiquitous tool used in rural Africa for agriculture and violent acts of war.
If the installation mourns death, it also offers a space for release. In the adjacent conference room are several framed collages. Like Surrealist’s exquisite corpses, they combine disparate layers (mushroom-like shape, woman’s head, tumory mass, arching figure) to create a space for transcendence. Through these images Mutu fabricates a metaphoric moment for accessing another world.
Hangin’ in Texas combines media to continue Wangechi Mutu’s meditation on unnecessary carnage, and her interrogation of the idea that killing—of criminals in Texas, of a people in Rwanda, of terrorists in Iraq—can absolve humans from harm or save anyone.