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Major exhibition of works by Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu opens in Sydney
Wangechi Mutu, Perhaps the Moon Will Save Us (detail) 2008. Blankets, plastic pearls, aluminium foil, animal pelts, clothing, photo collage, packing tape, ink, paint. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels © the artist.

SYDNEY.- Mutu’s collages represent bodies subjected to strange deformations or embellishments, combining drawn elements and image fragments from a variety of media including fashion magazines and ethnographic journals, as well as representations of the female body in pornography.

MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent said: ‘She blends elements of humour, pathos and sexuality in often surprising ways. Themes include human desire, conquest, empire building and alienation, expressed through and extending beyond the body’s limits.’

Exhibition highlights include The Ark Collection (2006) of erotic collaged postcards, and the X-ray series (2007) of strangely morphed life forms that sit between human, animal and plant worlds. The single collage Intertwined (2003) extends this theme with its elegant depiction of two conjoined female figures with canine heads.

Wangechi Mutu said: ‘My work starts with a search for the black female body and how it is represented through popular media. I look at where women are placed culturally and psychologically – how we value and devalue them – and I aim to stretch my own ideas about appropriate ways to depict the body through my art. Criticism, curiosity and voyeurism lead me along, as I often look at things I find hard to view, things that may be distasteful or unethical.’

Mutu’s videos feature herself in a range of roles and poetically illustrate very basic activities relating to women’s work. One video sees her walking into the ocean while singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in Kikuyu, recalling the loss of life at sea on the slave ships bound for America or Europe.

A multi-sensory installation titled Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem (2006) features surfaces groaning with excess and suspended red wine bottles that drip their contents onto a banquet table below, creating blood-like blooms. In another gallery, My Dirty Little Heaven (2010) is a series of collages, videos and sculptural elements combined in a dramatic interplay; long slatted tables recall those used to stack exhumed bodies following the Rwandan genocide. The work was originally commissioned by Deutsche Bank, the Major Partner of the exhibition, and created as part of the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year program.

blackthrones (2011–12) consists of haunting, towering constructions made from chairs, plastic bags, ribbon, cassette tape and feathers; their clustered formation suggests a gathering of wise minds.

Mutu transforms a vast gallery wall into a three-dimensional lunar landscape in Perhaps the Moon Will Save Us (2008) featuring an overstuffed, sagging moon made from fur pelts and costume jewellery; tiny collaged pigs with fur wings ‘fly’ across the wall, a satirical play on the idea of hope in a world gone mad. Rising from the gallery floor, the artist’s Mountetas (2008) – volcanic mounds made from packing tape – also evoke a strange alien world.

Curated by Rachel Kent and displayed in the Level 1 Galleries, this exhibition represents Mutu’s most comprehensive international survey to date. A new monograph accompanies the exhibition with contributions by Rachel Kent, Dan Cameron, Adrienne Edwards and Martin Kimani.

Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972, Nairobi, Kenya) has trained as both a sculptor and anthropologist. Her work explores the contradictions of female and cultural identity and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics, and the international fashion industry. Major solo exhibitions include Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (2012), Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2010); Gladstone Gallery, New York (2010); Performa 09, New York (2009); Kunsthalle Wien Museum, Vienna (2008); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (2005), and Art Pace, San Antonio (2004).
Awards and grants include Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, Berlin (2010); Cooper Union Urban Visionaries Awards, Emerging Talent Award, New York (2008); The Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Award, New York (2007); and the Studio Museum in Harlem Artist in Residence, New York (2003).

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