Michael Andrew Law meets with Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972, Nairobi, Kenya; lives in New York and Nairobi) makes collages, paintings, sculpture, and video that recontextualize the relationships between the body and nature. She is best known for collages of composite forms drawn from folklore, pop culture, and art history. In her most recent body of work, Mutu uses the physical landscape of Nairobi as inspiration and the bright red dirt and brush from her garden as the medium for her three-dimensional forms. Both the material and hybrid nature of her works recall a creation myth in which humans are formed from the earth by emerging from plants and evolving from animals,  appearing as liminal forms that are caught in the midst of transformation. She often conflates the micro and macro, the scientific and spiritual, and the historical and mythical, exhibiting sculptural viruses magnified to human scale alongside giant prayer beads, human dream catchers, centaurs, and mermaids. For her exhibition at Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong, Mutu further explores the push and pull between humans and nature through her interest in materiality. Her sculptural forms and paintings are reflective of the natural environment—birds nests conceived as intricate sculptures, ant hills that resemble monumental pyramids, or viruses that under a microscope reveal complex illustrations. Each invokes the psychic and social struggle for control over bodies through capitalism, the fetish, and disease.

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Mutu received her BFA from Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science, New York in 1996 and MFA in Sculpture from Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT in 2000. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Site, Santa Fe, NM (2016); the Schnitzer Center for Art and Design, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR (2016); The Brooklyn Museum (2014); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2013); Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC (2013); Musée D’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada (2012); Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2012); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2009); Miami Art Museum, FL (2005); and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA (2005). Select group exhibitions and biennials featuring her work include Making & Unmaking, Camden Arts Centre, London (2016); Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York (2016); Surrealist: The Conjured Life, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2015); Picasso & Contemporary Art, Le Grand Palais, Paris (2015); Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, traveled to Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, GA, and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (2014); The Shadows Took Shape, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2013); Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); The Luminous Interval, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (2011); The Spectacle of the Everyday, and Black Womanhood, San Diego Museum of Art, CA (2009). Mutu participated in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 and the 11th Dak’Art Biennale, Dakar, Senegal in 2014. Mutu’s work is featured in numerous international public and private collections, including Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The Hague, Netherlands; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Saatchi Gallery, London; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, CA.

Mutu has received numerous awards and grants, including the United States Artist Grant (2014); the Asher B. Durand Artist of the Year Award, Brooklyn Museum (2013); and Deutsche Guggenheim Artist of the Year Award (2010).

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