The art of seeing: Wangechi Mutu

The long conversation about women’s bodies and agency during this cray cray election cycle that tried to push society backwards about our bodies got me looking back at the work of Wangechi Mutu.  Mutu is one of my favorite contemporary artists.  Her collage and mixed media work investigates and challenges colonial narratives and images of women, particularly African women. Mutu appropriates images from fashion magazines to National Geographic to pornography to old medical drawings, reconstructs the female body illustrating how our deeply embedded stereotypes about black female identity live in society. Her images are beautiful and grotesque, satirical and political, alien and mythical. In 2010, MoMa’s curatorial team had this to say about her work:

Mutu has described women as “barometers,” innately vulnerable to the fluctuation of social and cultural norms. Here the vestiges of combat (political, cultural, and perhaps literal) have actually scarred and broken her. Yet Mutu has reconstructed this woman into something elegantly disordered, mythical and powerful, rising up, leaving the viewer to reconsider the notion of the feminine ideal.

The image to the left entitled, ‘One Hundred Lavish Months of Bushwack’, shocks and excites. It is defiant and self created; it might be a spirit animal for me (I’m still celebrating in my head last Tuesday’s victories while recognizing the great work required to fulfill any hope of a progressive agenda).  If you’re unfamiliar with her work, Mutu’s lecture for MOMA’s Feminist Future Symposium in 2007 is a great place to start. She even does a shout out at the end to notable diverse voices underrepresented atable to find some time to listen to her lecture here about her work.

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SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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