The Saturday night crowd at the Brooklyn Museum was intent on exploring every inch, sketchbook, plastic-wrapped ball, and cut-out supplied by the born-in-Kenya Brooklyn vision-artist in her one-woman show, Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. Explore her world (installed right next to The Dinner Party) before March 9.
Wangechi has been turning out thought-provoking work for the last 15 years, and the show, originally created by the Nasher Museum on the Duke University campus, presents the gigantic collage images that made her famous with collectors as well as a brand-new video and on-site installation.
Ladies’ fashion lips, stiletto-heeled shoes, African totems, African animals, high-fashion eyes, and magical shapes and patterns are interworked onto large-scale pieces portraying Amazons that are pushed, puzzled, and probed in fantasy landscapes, surrounded by plants and creatures from different worlds.
She’s a visual virtuoso who knows that how things look from a distance are nothing like what you’ll see when you get up to her images very, very close. For example, when you come into the gallery, you see a wall-sized work that Wangechi created that looks like a she-centaur being chased by who-knows-what-in-3D flying into the frame. Up close, you’ll see that her “hooves” are collages of African sculptures and engine parts. The furtive creature flees atop a huge root system of “earth” created out of masses of folded felt. Take a look at how she assembled it:
Walking up to each piece, shapes shift right in front of you, conjuring mixed messages and forms associated with female beauty, African “otherness”, the fallout from colonialism, and the disassociation with the natural world. Wangechi wants everyone and everything to exist harmoniously, but her techniques constantly remind you of the dissonance and difficulty in achieving this.
In a 2007 piece titled Funkalicious fruit field, the far-away feeling is organic, dense, watery, and surreal. But when you get right up close, you’ll discover three jackals, a sacred cow, and a white rhino floating around, and you’ll start scouring the weeds for more surprises. Her female portraits can sometimes feel scary as you recognize the genesis of some of the cut-up images creating the illusion – medical textbooks whose components aren’t pretty.
The crowd was captivated by her first animated film, The End of eating Everything. A female-headed magical creature belches volcano steam from her misshapen body, eating everything in sight. Thankfully, it has a bit of a surreal, happy ending as hopeful, intelligent heads eventually prevail, framed by a cloud-filled blue sky.
Listen to a discussion of her work at the Brooklyn Museum via YouTube, and enjoy this beautiful 9-minute documentary produced by Arise Entertainment 360. You’ll meet this fascinating artist, see close-ups of her collages, and experience what’s so great about this show: