VIDEO: Wangechi Mutu: New Siren.
The artist takes on life, death and femininity with her latest video work.
“To create, for me, is to come up with something new as opposed to destroying,” explains Nairobi-born, Brooklyn-based artist Wangechi Mutu, whose brightly hued collages, films and installations provoke both aesthetic pleasure and a sense of chaos. “I want to make something in which the viewer can lose themselves, away from the hardness and banality of life, and see what it’s like to be human.”
A Yale MFA graduate and one of the leading figures of the contemporary African art scene, Mutu draws on science, pop culture and ancient traditions, mashing together porn imagery, machinery, plants and folk African creatures. Her alluring and disturbing supernatural female forms react to the pervasive policing of women across cultures and the vilification of Africa in a post-colonial world.
For her new exhibition Nguva na Nyoka (Sirens and Serpents) at London’s Victoria Miro gallery, Mutu looked to ancient mythologies from Africa and the Arab world, exploring the troubling spirit of mermaids and the abyssal mystery of the sea, where sailors are seduced and annihilated. The accompanying film Nguva, previewed here, opens with an unsettling scream, moving to ghostly images of veiled women on a sandy shore. The artist appears as a hysterical beast whose menacing force slowly dissipates. Through this magical metamorphosis, Mutu creates a surreal landscape between life and death, reality and dreams, the female body transforming into site of geo-political and sexual violence.
“True beauty is complicated, like a flame that is both dangerous and interesting,” explains Mutu, who was the subject of a multimedia survey at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year. “I mix in tragedy and horror with things that are seductive for the eye, because they always come together in nature.”
Shirine Saad is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn.
Nguva na Nyoka runs at Victoria Miro, London, through December 19.