Black women: ideas of beauty, ideas of strength, unapologetic.
A thumb pushes on teeth. Jewelled eyes, misplaced lips, and masks of black glitter expose the complexity and falsity of the modern representational world.
Born in Nairobi, living in New York, Wangechi Mutu is known for her painting, sculpture, film, and performance work in which she does anything but shy away from critiquing the modern gaze. Rather, she focuses squarely on calling a spade a spade: the Orientalist way the West looks at the African-American woman, the exaltation of consumerism, and the role of technology (and its intersection with humanity) in the modern age.
Mutu is neither neutral nor exploratory; at times, she offers the visual equivalent of an indictment. Mutu's protagonists, tribal and technological, wonderfully proud yet ceaselessly oppressed, both blossom and collapse. Driven by contradiction, they draw us in.
Published in 2010 to accompany Mutu's first major exhibition in North America, This You Call Civilization? features reproductions of her major works on paper, large-scale installations, and stills from videos as well as essays by David Moos, Jennifer Gonzales, Michelle Jacques, Odili Donald Odita, Raphael Rubinstein, Carol Thompson, and Rinaldo Walcott. Interleaved between the essays are excerpts from books, selected by Mutu, about brutal colonial repression, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Rwandan genocide.