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Discovering Wangechi Mutu

While interning at Girls’ Club, Catherine Guzzi, Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale student (Illustration BS 2014), first encountered the work of Wangechi Mutu. Howl, a large, colorful print was on view as part of the exhibition I think it’s in my head, curated by the TM Sisters.

My first reaction was a feeling of power and excitement through her suggestive, unsettling composition, mix of mediums and controlled chaos.

Exaggerated figures, full of action and ornamental elements of glitter and pattern.

Using animal characteristics, fur, nature, pornographic magazines to create her composite figures, and the idea of her home land to express her perspective.

 

Researching Wangechi Mutu

Mutu, Wangechi - Howl, 2006With her interest piqued, Catherine embarked on a research project, scouring the internet for information, interviews, images and videos relating to the international artist.

Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya on June 22, 1972. After living in Nairobi, Kenya for the first part of her life, she moved to New York in the 1990’s to study fine arts and anthropology at Parsons School of Art and Design.

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art had a lot of fun things to say, particularly about the piece titled, “Bloody Old Head Games” from 2005. This piece brought ideas of poetry, mythology and allegory to the work, and was described as bright, colorful and fierce with heavy influences from West African culture.

Another fascinating show Wangechi Mutu was involved in was located in the Tate Museum in London on October 12 2013 – 26 January 2014.  The show was called “Aquatopia” and focused on aquatic life and the mysterious ocean deep where strange and exotic sea creatures thrive. Writers and poets also participated with this oceanic expression. The flow of transparent shapes in the works immersed the viewer, like the affect of an aquatic descent.

 

Experiencing Wangechi Mutu

This led Catherine to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, where a solo exhibition of Mutu’s work titled “A Fantastic Journey” was on view and a public discussion of the artist was in process.

On display were Mutu’s signature collages as well as sketch book and journal pages she had filled over the last 20 years. The sketch book pages gave further insight into her artistic process, and I was able to see how she developed idea after idea until all of those ideas transformed into the more complex works. I loved that so much!

She had set up these tree-like installations on parts of the floor, the walls, and the columns of the gallery which made the viewer feel as though they were walking through the forest. The materials she used were a grey recycled cloth, almost like foam that was wrinkled up to look like tree roots and bark. Added to the tree installations were bundles of red bras, panties and lingerie. They were beautiful and fierce with an uneven balance.

One of the interviews Wangechi had done at the MOCA focused primarily on a piece called, “Once upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her The End.”  Mutu described this piece as a “snake, horse, dragon worrier woman” who could strike out the obstacles that surrounded her. The worrier woman defeats the negative elements in her life and makes it to the top of the collaged landscape victoriously. I really loved her expression of this particular art piece she had installed because like the artist, I also believe that everyone has obstacles that need facing and the process of learning how to defeat those obstacles is how women in particular find happiness and freedom in her life.

The exhibition also featured a video, with a flock of black birds that fly around together in one big bundle. A monster played by Santigold slowly falls into a calm, suspenseful feeding frenzy, surrounded by these birds. At the end of the video the monster makes biting gestures as blood fades into the air as she eats the birds. This was a fantastic metaphor of how an artist can visualize something beyond its anticipation. As the monster played a strong protagonist, it helps the audience understand that the mood of the video is to help you imagine what happens beyond chaos and doom in our own minds.

 

Catherine Guzzi is currently an Illustration student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. This project took place in Spring 2014 during her internship at Girls’ Club in Fort Lauderdale. For more information about the Girls’ Club internship program visit girlsclubcollection.org/programs or email admin@girlsclubcollection.org.

 

Featured Image: detail of Wangechi Mutu’s Howl, 2006.