Wangechi Mutu born June 25, 1972 in Nairobi (Kenya), is a Kenyane artist who works and lives in New-York. She was educated in Britain and America and resident in New York since the mid-nineties, Wangechi Mutu's work has often seemed to bear the gaze of a perpetual outsider, simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the discovery of another fresh outrage in the lands in which she travels.
Much of Mutu's work to date has been concerned with the myriad forms of violence and misrepresentation visited upon women, especially black women, in the contemporary world. Her paintings and collages often feature writhing female forms, their skin an eruption of buboes, mutant appendices like gun shafts or machine gears sprouting from the sockets of joints, their bodies half human, half hyena.
Mutu was born in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and much of her work has involved Kenyan or African themes to some degree. Her upbringing was a modern and urban one, and she was puzzled by the Western tendency to think of Africa in terms of its rural, traditional cultures. "There's this constant movement toward historicizing Africa, turning it into this archaic place," Mutu explained in an interview on the Africana Web site. "Being that I was raised there, and that I came from the city, it was really weird for me. I was like, 'It's actually a really modern place like everywhere else. It happened and is happening right now.'"
Work Influenced by Urban African Experience
Mutu's work was shaped by her observations of the African world.
Mutu came to art as a second career. At first she went to England and studied anthropology, receiving an international baccalaureate degree in 1991 from United World College of the Atlantic in the British region of Wales, a school that had a student body drawn from all over the world and fostered a philosophy of cross-cultural understanding. Studying anthropology influenced Mutu's art in several ways, causing her to think in terms of the ways human relationships rest on large social structures and exposing her to the ways Europeans and Americans thought about Africans and African artistic expression. Mutu seemed to have a promising career as an anthropologist ahead of her; in 1994 she received the Richard Leakey merit award in that field.
Art proved to have a stronger pull over her energies, however, and Mutu came to the United States in the mid-1990s and enrolled at the Cooper Union, an arts-oriented school in New York City. She received a bachelor of fine arts degree there in 1996, already having had her first gallery showing (at New York's Houghton Gallery) the previous year. Her art career developed rapidly, for by the following year she was receiving major attention. No fewer than five exhibitions featured Mutu's work in 1997, the most prestigious of which was the Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa, an event of international scope held every two years.
Mutu worked mostly in the medium of sculpture at this time, and her entry in the Biennale was a mixed-media work, called "Four Square Pillahs," that featured a variety of objects--hanging light bulbs, a large flower-like bud superimposed on a diamond grid--spread around a room-sized space.
After this initial burst of activity, Mutu decided on further schooling and was admitted to Yale University's School of Art.
February 23, 2010 Deutsche Bank honored Wangechi Mutu as the Deutsche Bank 2010 Artist of the Year. The Bank presented the award for the first time , opening up a new chapter in its commitment to art, and the bank making a point of the fact that, Mutu is one of the world’s premier African contemporary artists. Her works have been on view at Tate Modern and the Museum Kunsthalle in Vienna. She was selected as Artist of the Year on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, a committee consisting of four internationally renowned curators: Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Nancy Spector.
She is represented by Barbara Gladstone in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Los Angeles and Victoria Miro Gallery in London.