Critics’ Picks

Wangechi Mutu, Sprout, 2010, mixed media, ink, paint, collage on Mylar, 54 x 51”.

New York

Wangechi Mutu

Gladstone Gallery | West 24th St
515 West 24th Street
October 30–December 18, 2010

The new mixed-media works in Wangechi Mutu’s latest exhibition, “Hunt Bury Flee,” expand on her past seductive and shocking collages on Mylar. In the large-scale Sprout (all works cited, 2010), the artist depicts an upside-down figure with legs splayed, knees bent to touch the ground, and arms almost elbow-deep in muck. Contorted into a perversely vulnerable position and consigned to the earth, the figure literally embodies the colonial construction of non-Western subjects as being close to the ground—and thereby precivilized, hypersexual, and animalistic in nature. Indeed, magazine cutouts of animal parts, including tusks and leopard limbs, are part of the collage. However, the pearls adorning the eyes and genital area, in addition to the wild flowers sprouting forth from between the figure’s legs and where feet should be, suggest something altogether different: a resurgence of life––even fecundity––as well as reclamation of agency.

This show also includes new sculptural work. The unsettling affect produced by the collages has a more specific resonance in Moth Girls, an installation of leather-winged ceramic moths with dangling humanlike legs and feathers for antennae. The serial arrangement of the figures in a grid format on a chalkboardlike surface is reminiscent of that found in natural history museum display cases of insects pinned to a mounting board. It also hints at one particularly sinister by-product of the emergence of taxonomy as a legitimate scientific practice: the hierarchical categorization of entire groups of people. Mutu’s hybrid moth girls defy classification and therefore unravel the arbitrariness of the latter. In this sense they are a threat—the kind that so often has led to the violent containment and subjugation of difference, as with the gendered and racial others that Mutu references.