Nasher to open touring exhibit of multi-media artist Wangechi Mutu
In Wangechi Mutu’s installation piece “Suspended Playtime,” plastic grocery bags balled up to resemble stones are suspended from the ceiling at different heights using twine. In an accompanying video shot in black and white, titled “Eat Cake,” the artist sits in a chair and makes dance-like moves, manipulating a three-layer cake.
“Suspended Playtime” is one of more than 50 pieces in the first survey of multidisciplinary artist Mutu’s work that opens March 21 at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Nasher organized the exhibit, titled “A Fantastic Journey,” which will later travel to museums in Brooklyn, Miami and Northwestern University. The exhibit contains, in addition to the installation piece, drawing, sculpture, video and collage, from Mutu’s work from the mid-1990s to the present.
The exhibit was under construction earlier this month, but a visitor could already see some of Mutu’s large, striking collages being prepared for display. Many, such as “The Bride Who Married a Camel’s Head,” contain the figure of a woman. Mutu uses beads, paint and magazine cutouts from numerous sources – including fashion magazines and science fiction. In many of her collages, the female figure is represented with severed limbs. They have dark elements, but are also brightly colorful.
In a lecture at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design (available on YouTube), Mutu speaks of her collages and other work as expressing “this idea of broken-upness, and coming from a fractured space.” Mutu was born in 1972 in Kenya. She earned art degrees in England and in the United States. She now lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Her art examines issues of gender, race, colonialism and its aftermath in Africa, and, according to a Nasher press release “the eroticization of the black female body.” During her University of Michigan lecture, she tells about an incident in post-colonial Kenya that to her expressed the power of the female figure. The government sent police officers to quell demonstrators. When the armed soldiers arrived, a group of women took off their clothes, and the soldiers stood transfixed, she said.
Trevor Schoonmaker, the Nasher’s curator of contemporary art, curated the exhibit. He knew Mutu in graduate school, and they have been friends and colleagues for about 10 years, said Wendy Livingston, the Nasher’s director of communications.
For this exhibit, the space is being transformed to resemble a forest. An installation that resembles a tree with giant roots is the first piece that a viewer to this exhibit will see. A similar installation was under construction inside the gallery space. Mutu’s collages have variations on this roots theme -- one wall of this exhibit is titled “Family Tree.”
For “A Fantastic Journey,” Mutu’s sketchbooks of drawings that reveal her creative process will be on view for the first time publicly.
“Longtime Mutu fans will be dazzled, and people who never heard of her will be dazzled,” Livingston said of this exhibit, which continues at the Nasher Museum through July 21.