“War isn’t pretty. Neither is sexism or racism. Mutu’s genius has been to make them too gorgeous to turn away from,” says Lori Waxman, a special contributor of the Chicago Tribune, referring to Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu’s art.
Mutu, who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and is known for her thought-provoking signature collages and artwork, was in Johannesburg in November last year when she exhibited some of her collection at the Goodman Gallery as part of its Africans in America exhibition.
Mutu has a packed schedule and FORBES WOMAN AFRICA is fortunate to get a few minutes of her time at the gallery where we get to see both the artist and her work in a single setting.
In reference to her collage painting, I’m too misty, she starts to explain how the process of mixing the supplies was so fulfilling.
“I used ink, water and paint to create this work, and it is really satisfying for me because things are happening in the making of things – in the ink and color you won’t see in a bottle,” she says.
She is vocal on issues of identity and says when she moved to America from Kenya to study art, thoughts of her being an immigrant occupied most of her thinking.
Mutu brought one of her thought-provoking films called Eat Cake to the month-long exhibition.
The short film is black and white and has a lanky woman with long nails sitting on the ground and eating a big, chocolate cake. Mutu describes the woman in the video as a primal creature.
She says during her pregnancy she was fascinated with urges of eating earth and rock, as compensation for the need for iron.
Other artists who were a part of the exhibition were Ghada Amer, Paulo Nazareth, Alfredo Jaar and Theaster Gates. The exhibition formed part of the In Context series launched by the gallery’s director, Liza Essers, in 2010.
Essers, along with artist Hank Willis Thomas, conceptualized Africans in America, which displayed the “flows, exchanges and continuities between the continent of Africa and the United States”.
“Things are not as simple or as precise or surface as they may come across from the outside. I try to express that to other people – that it is my story,” says Mutu.
The expressive African artist agrees one’s biography in itself is inspirational.
“I think the simple stories about who we are and where we come from, is very inspirational. There is no woman who can look up and say there is no female artist from Africa… we are all here now,” says Mutu, who clearly lets her art speak volumes about her story.