Overview of the artist

Born on June 22, 1972, in Nairobi, Kenya, she received her BFA from Cooper Union in 1996, and subsequently her MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 2000. Her work has been showcased globally, including a prominent retrospective that premiered at the Nasher Museum of Art in North Carolina in 2013 and toured internationally. In the year of 2019, her exhibition titled The NewOnes, Will Free Us, was showcased as the first-ever Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection included four separate bronze sculptures, each with their title – The Seated I, II, III, and IV – occupying the previously unoccupied niches on the museum’s façade for the past 117 years. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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“Crocodylus” (2020), with the artist’s new “Subterranea” collages at “Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined,” at the New Museum. The sculpture refashions a photo of the supermodel Naomi Campbell._©Charlie Rubin for The New York Times

Deeply concerned with Western commercialism, Mutu has explained that “a lot of my work reflects the incredible influence that America has had on contemporary African culture. Some of it is deceptive, some of it is harmless, and some of it is undetectable. It is indeed present. Her practice is commonly analyzed for presenting a divergent path of history for people of African origins.  “If a plant has just one root that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stand straight and strong. The idea of having many roots, of having your feet really grounded in different places, is extremely empowering for me.” Mutu Wangechi has said.

Philosophy :

Renowned for challenging binary distinctions, Mutu has articulated the multifaceted allure of feminist beings and their appearances as perceived by her. With an exceptional comprehension of the potency and necessity of novel mythologies – the productive clash of contradictions beyond mere binaries and stereotypes – Mutu challenges conventional differentiations between humans, animals, plants, and machines. Mutu creates figures that evoke a sense of threat, seduction, and otherworldliness, while still resonating with the familiar traits of the Afro-Asian community. The methods of conveyance employed in her art lead the viewer on genuine journeys of material, psychological, and sociopolitical alteration.

In her collages, drawings, sculptures, and films, Mutu places the female body as the centerpiece, forging robust and self-assured entities that incorporate elements of both humans, plants, animals, and machines. By sampling a broad array of sources, including natural materials, fashion magazines, medical diagrams, and traditional African arts, the artist constructs ethereal landscapes that explore cultural identity, femininity, colonial history, and global consumption. Clichéd depictions of mothers, virgins, and goddesses serve as powerful source material for Mutu, which she transforms to allow for autonomy, diversity, and paradoxes. As the artist explained the origin of her collage-making practice, “I took these idealized stereotyped images of women and Eden-like ‘tropical’ images of Africa to create other images, tension-charged, potent, because they were full of my emotional upset at the original ones…I was taking apart the images of a world that refused to acknowledge me.”


The narrative of Wangechi Mutu’s career growth, more or less in chronological order, is an empowering tale. 

During the comprehension of Wangechi Mutu’s career path, she conveys her ideas by initiating collages in the early stages. By extracting images from discarded magazines and books strewn across the urban streets, Mutumetamorphosed them into expansive canvases featuring fragmented yet cohesive figures, distorted yet oddly captivating. She integrated these fragments into surreal environments that were simultaneously haunting and captivating. It was her method of establishing order and elegance, a means to commemorate my origins and identity. Mending and healing to triumph.

She enhanced the figures’ skin, exaggerated their facial features, and substituted their limbs with gears, wheels, and animal parts. Titles like Your Story, My Curse (2006) and The Root of All Eves (2010) provoke and allure with their images. Mutu used found and crafted objects for room-sized installations. These installations were initially used to view her videos. Her work focuses on and expands the female body, which she saw as the point of departure in her art. She subverted art conventions by manipulating images and objects to project women’s desires and despairs onto their bodies.

Mutu describes her transformations as a journey of rebirth and reincarnation, wherein her subjects meld with other materials, ultimately experiencing a renewal of their potential and power.

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Yo Mama. 2003 (left) Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, b. 1972). Family Tree, 2012. (right)_© 2023 Wangechi Mutu
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Yo Mama. 2003 (left) Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, b. 1972). Family Tree, 2012. (right)_© 2023 Wangechi Mutu

Mutu established a studio in Kenya in 2016 and began splitting her time between Brooklyn and Nairobi. In order to blend the two lives that she used to adjust, Mutu, in various of her art pieces meticulously applied vibrant ink and paint to the nonabsorbent Mylar film, creating an intricately layered and textured foundation. In her diverse sculpture practice, Mutu employs organic materials like paper pulp and Kenyan soil, alongside creating monumental pieces in bronze.

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The shape of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” reminds curator Margot Norton of mangrove plants with their twisted roots (left) and “In Two Canoe” (right) Courtesy New Museum_©Photo: Dario Lasagni
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The shape of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” reminds curator Margot Norton of mangrove plants with their twisted roots (left) and “In Two Canoe” (right) Courtesy New Museum_©Photo: Dario Lasagni
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The Seated 1,2,3_© Wangechi Mutu.
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The Seated 1,2,3_© Wangechi Mutu.
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The Seated 1,2,3_© Wangechi Mutu.
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The Seated 1,2,3_© Wangechi Mutu.

Mutu’s notable work, “The NewOnes, Will Free Us,” debuted at the Met in NYC in 2019. The museum’s inaugural commission included four bronze, seven-foot female figures called The Seated I-IV for the empty niches on its facade. Their unearthly eyes, elongated fingers, coiled garb, and mirror adornments—which recalled the traditional African lip plates worn by women of status—appeared historical yet futuristic, familiar but perplexing. In Mutu’s Afrofuturist interpretation, Black women rule an otherworldly realm. The Met acquired two sculptures in 2020: The Seated I and The Seated III.

Mutu showcased large-scale works at Storm King Art Center in 2022. Notably, the bronze fountain In Two Canoe (2022) showcased anthropomorphic mangrove trees in a water-filled vessel. The New Museum in New York City showcased a mid-career survey of Mutu’s art the following year.

The hypothesis that Wangechi Mutu has showcased via her work is incredulous, to say the least. Employing her art, she has surely laid a foundation for reinventing the origins of afrofuturistic art.

References : 

Wangechi Mutu: An artist with roots in Nairobi and New York imagines a new destiny (2023) Aruna D’Souza. Available at: https://www.arunadsouza.com/wangechi-mutu-an-artist-with-roots-in-nairobi-and-new-york-imagines-a-new-destiny/ (Accessed: 12 November 2023). 

Mutu, W. (2023) The timeless, ancient language of art, Wangechi Mutu: The timeless, ancient language of art | TED Talk. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/wangechi_mutu_the_timeless_ancient_language_of_art/transcript?language=en (Accessed: 12 November 2023). 

Hallett, V. (2023) The fantastical art of Wangechi Mutu: From plant people to a 31-foot snake, NPR. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2023/05/08/1173351459/the-fantastical-art-of-wangechi-mutu-from-plant-people-to-a-31-foot-snake (Accessed: 12 November 2023). 

Smith, R. (2023) Wangechi Mutu: An imagined world made possible, The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/02/arts/design/wangechi-mutu-new-museum.html (Accessed: 12 November 2023).