Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu made history in 2019 when her four Bronze sculptures was the first to occupy the niches of Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s facade. With a length of almost two meters, the seated quartet evokes images of heavily decorated African queens and intervenes in the otherwise homogeneous canon of art history within the walls of the institution.
The monumental figures are a facet of Mutu’s nuanced work, which questions colonialist, racist and sexist ideologies on a broad front. The latest iteration of the artist’s subversive projects can now be seen in San Francisco’s Legion of Honor: I speak are you listening distributes imposing hybrid creatures in bronze and towering sculptures made of earth, branches, charcoal, cowrie shells and other organic materials in the neoclassical galleries. The figurative works establish a direct connection between the black female body and the ecological destruction, as they reject long-cherished ideals increased in space.
Regardless of the medium, these associations reflect Mutu’s deep respect and fascination for the connection between nature, the feminine and African history and culture Art21 explored in a recent documentary. Wangechi Mutu: Between earth and sky visits the artist’s studio in her hometown of Nairobi and delves into the development of her works of art, from the smaller collage paintings that focused on her early practice as a university student in New York, to her current multimedia projects, which in Extent and scope have grown.
Whether a watercolor with photographic scraps or one of her mirror-smooth figures with fringes, Mutu’s works are based on the insistence on the value of all life and the functioning of the earth’s history as a source of knowledge, which she explains:
I really believe there is something about taking these pieces of trees and animals and completely anonymous but extremely identifiable objects and placing them in a place that draws their energy, where they came from, whatever they did, whatever molten lava they also came a million years ago, that’s in my work now and that little piece of energy is magnified.
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