Wangechi Mutu: My Dirty Little Heaven

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Wangechi Mutu, The Bride Who Married a Camel's Head, 2009

Wangechi Mutu, The Bride Who Married a Camel's Head, 2009. Mixed media, ink, and collage on Mylar, 106.7 x 76.2 cm. © Wangechi Mutu and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo: Mathias Schormann

Wangechi Mutu: My Dirty Little Heaven

June 26–June 13, 2010

Wangechi Mutu: My Dirty Little Heaven is the first one-person exhibition in Germany of Wangechi Mutu’s works. As the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year 2010, Mutu’s practice embodies a strategy in contemporary art that is more substantial and complex than that of many of her generation. During the last decade, the artist, who was born in Kenya in 1972 and lives in New York, has created a unique body of work in which form and content conjoin symbiotically. Her examination of themes such as colonization, gender roles, consumerism, and ecology find their correspondence in artistic techniques that are demonstratively modest. Mutu recycles images of our world by cutting them out of books and magazines and assembling them anew. Her collages also incorporate materials like buttons, pearls, and ribbons to form a distorted mirror of our global society in an uncanny and fascinating way. Material overabundance gives birth to lavish new lifeforms, mutations that are part plant, part animal, and part human that Mutu has implanted with the DNA of our longings, fears, and desires. The seductive surfaces are comprised of jewelry, animal skin, and motors. Mutu creates paradoxical idols: female figures that are both goddesses and idolatresses, erotic priestesses that push the cliché images of the exotic black woman to the extreme, until they dissolve. In selecting Mutu as artist of the year, it was not only crucial that she has created a seminal oeuvre in her relatively short career; what was also decisive is the fact that her work represents some of Deutsche Bank’s most important focal points in its collection and commitment to art: internationalism, diversity, and artistic questioning of society. As enigmatic as Mutu’s works seem. they also call the viewer’s attention to some very elementary questions, such as: What is beauty? What is desirable? How are we reflected in what is alien to us? How do we react to poverty and oppression?

Mutu's provocative works oscillate between beauty and horror, and her new installation for the Deutsche Guggenheim does the same, attracting all of the viewer's senses. The piece is based on her collage The Bride Who Married a Camel’s Head (2009), which depicts a girlish figure, surrounded by butterflies, exotic plants, dried leaves, and animal skulls in a surreal grassy landscape. As she kneels on the ground, blood spurts between the teeth of her bony lower jaw, which she holds high in defiance, while her Medusa-like hair winds around her opulent flowery headdress, which is held in place by a lavish pearl earring. This mixture between grace and abjectness is characteristic of Mutu’s works, which question black female identity as it is caught between Western consumerist culture, fashion, African politics, and postcolonial history. For her Deutsche Guggenheim edition, Mutu turned The Bride Who Married a Camel’s Head into a three-dimensional puzzle. The relieflike assemblage is made of Corian, a valuable mineral-based material whose surface imitates the texture of the original collage. The highlight is a central puzzle piece: the figure’s earring can be removed and worn on a matching chain.

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