In recent years, Wangechi Mutu has created whimsical constellations of stunning and powerful female characters, hybrid creatures and fairy-tale scenes. With an uncommon understanding of strength and the need for new mythologies that break down common distinctions between man, animal, plant and machine. Both seductive and disconcerting, his characters and environments take the viewer on excursions of material, mental and socio-political transformation.
Wangechi Mutu‘s « I Am Speaking, Are You Listening ? » exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco through November 07, 2021 aims to stimulate a focused evaluation of art histories, mythologies and folklores of archival and memory techniques.
Residing in both Nairobi and New York, Wangechi Mutu avidly moves between cultural traditions to challenge colonial, racist and sexist worldviews with her visionary projection of a universe through Afrofuturism, post-humanism and women’s rights. She seeks to disrupt the breathtaking separation of the scholar in the Court of Honor of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco with her two bronze Shavasana figures, as if to return to the verifiable framework of the making of this sculptural monument by Dante Alighieri that interrogates the brutality and carnage of the attacks and abuses associated with colonial exploitation.
This mix and pressure serves as a springboard for Wangechi Mutu to present a body of new work, including sculptures, collages, and a film, that consolidates the chronicles, performances, and customs of her Western preparation with those of her African points of departure.
Nearly four bronzes, including « Mama Ray » and « Crocodylus »-two hybrid cross-goddesses who are part animal creature, part woman and part alien-are on view in the Legion of Honor. It features sculptures made from earth, trees, debris, animals and indigenous Kenyan gems and reflecting the formal techniques used to make traditional African carvings, ornaments, battle protections and protective talismans.
As artist Wangechi Mutu points out, these connections and juxtapositions of diverse materials and emblematic dialects, between human behavior and the natural world that have empowered us, describe the long history of creation and self-portrayal that has separated us from other creatures and from each other.
It is also the reason why man has justified the rape, control and annihilation of everything he has known. Scattered throughout the Legion of Honor booths, sculptures such as « I Speak, Can You Hear Me ? » ; « Mirror Face » ; « Tense » ; and « Sentinel » invite the viewer to ponder the possibility of a world characterized by the obtaining, care and assurance of humans and the planet.
Aware of the enormity of the task ahead, her new film presents her as a mythical horned creature seeking wisdom in the bowels of a sacred cave in Kenya’s Rift Valley. A performance is both a dance and a prayer. With her apsidal installation of large beaded rosaries titled « Prayers » in the nave of Rodin’s main gallery, she offers a structure to her faith and love of the divinity of the earth, the power of women, and the potential of art to bring discovery and examination to the world.