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In a recent interview Mutu said: "That very Christian-puritanical, nationally and historically schizophrenic, beautiful Kenya of my past proved to be the perfect carcass which to pick at and understand myself and the culturally fractured world around me." Mutu counters the idea that she is an "African" artist who draws on the culture of her home continent in her work with a multiperspectival cosmos which attests to the loss of a clear identity. This universe is populated by chimeras who seem to drift around like sea dwellers or microorganisms, touching each other only fleetingly, in ever-new constellations.
Following Deutsche Guggenheim, Wiels is the second location where Wangechi Mutu's installation My Dirty Little Heaven is now on view. Wangechi Mutu is the first winner in Deutsche Bank's "Artist of the Year" program. With her substantial, absolutely distinctive work, Mutu (born Kenia 1972 – lives and works in New York) is one of the most important contemporary artists. The exhibition is a thematic survey and is presented in the context of Wiels' mission to offer a platform to emerging artists. Furthermore, this exhibition will be on view during the Belgian Presidency of the EU and the commemoration of 50 Years of Independence of 17 African States.
Mutu's work challenges the viewer. It questions our conceptions of beauty, our image of the other, of what is foreign. In a recent interview Mutu said: "That very Christian-puritanical, nationally and historically schizophrenic, beautiful Kenya of my past proved to be the perfect carcass which to pick at and understand myself and the culturally fractured world around me." Mutu counters the idea that she is an "African" artist who draws on the culture of her home continent in her work with a multiperspectival cosmos which attests to the loss of a clear identity. This universe is populated by chimeras who seem to drift around like sea dwellers or microorganisms, touching each other only fleetingly, in ever-new constellations.
In Fallen Heads, for example, a large collage, women's heads overgrown with roses and pearls seem to float through a veil consisting of blood-red hues. Black lines gush from their eyes and mouths, recalling tentacles or seaweed; bizarre extremities make contact like sensors.
The alienation and uprooting in Mutu's images and installations is obvious. She seems to be less interested in reflecting on original cultural identity than in providing a vision of a future in which more and more people, as migrants and permanent travelers, are becoming part of the "AlieNation." In her view, cultural identity is no longer determined by geographical origins, ancestry or biological disposition, but is increasingly becoming a hybrid construct that one can determine and change oneself.
For My Dirty Little Heaven, Mutu transformed Wiels into a suggestive environment, which recalls both a protective cocoon and the improvised buildings found in Shanty Towns. She built organic-looking sculptural constructions from simple means such as gray, felt-like blankets made of recycled materials or brown parcel tape. The creations cover walls and floors of the exhibition hall and at the same time provide the framework and background for Mutu's collages and her new video work Mud Fountain. The form and content are closely intertwined. Her exploration of topics such as abundance, beauty, gender roles, and ecology find their counterpart in her artistic practice, which Mutu herself calls "modest." Unlike contemporaries, who work with a slew of assistants and have established veritable art factories, Mutu tries to do as much as possible herself. Cutting out the motifs for her collages alone takes weeks. This time-consuming manual activity enables her to reflect on the work she is creating. During the production process, she repeatedly makes intuitive decisions that influence and alter the final result.
With their masses of (re)produced images and materials, Mutu's collages and installations address the issue of waste: the daily overload of media pictures, consumerism, ruthless exploitation of natural, economic, and spiritual resources, a world in which bodies have become commodities. She juxtaposes these phenomena with an alternative, more human economy.
The attempt to develop this economy is an integral part of her artistic practice and her general thinking: "I have a theory that there's an incredible waste of resources, imagination, and ideas-although they are right in front of us. Often you find them in places you'd least expect: in areas with incredible poverty, with people who seem to be the least educated, but who are actually quite ingenious because they're still alive despite the conditions they live in. In a way, my exhibition is an homage to their systems, to their way of working, to this kind of tenacity and ingenuity."
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