Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu makes it to her own show in Sydney


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WANGECHI Mutu is in Sydney and she is happy. Yes, the exhibition of the Kenyan-born artist’s work, which opens today at the MCA, has come together beautifully after years of preparation.

But that’s not it. Mutu is happy because she has made it to Sydney to see her own show.

Mutu lives in Brooklyn, New York. But a protracted delay in processing her immigration papers trapped her in the US between 2000 and 2012. If she had travelled overseas during that time, she says, she would not have been able to return to the city she has chosen to be her young family’s home.

This meant she never saw her solo art exhibitions in Berlin, Brussels or Ontario. So Mutu is “beyond thrilled” to be in Sydney for this solo show.

“It was so bizarre,” Mutu says of the years she was stuck in her chosen home.

Not being able to direct the installation of her big overseas shows was “like a combination of being paralysed and blind”.

Sydney has benefited from the resolution of Mutu’s immigration troubles. It means she has been able to paint some of her works on to the MCA’s walls, rather than relying on her team of assistants to do it.

One of the works she painted was Foxy Lady, a human-animal hybrid created from watercolour paint and animal pelts.

But many of her other works are more easily installed by her team. One isMetha, a sprawling banquet-style installation in which suspended bottles constantly drip wine and milk on a dining table.

The slatted top of the dining table recalls, for Mutu, the mortuary tables heaped high with the dead from the 1990s massacres in Rwanda, which borders Kenya. The wine and milk reference the beginning and end of life.

Mutu says she made Metha, which means “table”, “to discuss how we still use violence and killing and mutilating as a way of eliminating what we consider to be bad or negative or inferior”.

“It’s a homage and respect to people killed during that [Rwandan] genocide.”

Mutu is renowned for her meticulously assembled collages, particularly those like The Ark Collection which reference pornographic images of black women.

But she is equally well known for her messy aesthetic and for images which simultaneously seduce and repel. In Exhuming Gluttony: Another Requiem, Mutu presents an enclosed space with a wooden table, on to which suspended bottles drip red wine. One of the walls has been peppered with bullet holes, done by Mutu herself.

The show includes a series of collages which evoke medical illustration, but relief from the intensity is provided by Amazing Grace, a video in which Mutu walks into the ocean in tacit memory of African slaves lost at sea.

Exhibition curator Rachel Kent says Wangechi Mutu is the artist’s largest survey show yet, and includes work from the past 10 years.

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