Entering Gladstone Gallery in New York, artist Wangechi Mutu’s surreal, serpentine sculptures greet the viewer with a mixture of minimalist, elegant beauty and unnerving, otherworldly poise, somewhere between lyrical, classical sculpture and the surreal forms of H.R. Giger. Drawing upon her sculptural practice, a core aspect of her work, this installation brings to life otherworldly alternatives to the systemic modes of representation portrayed throughout global traditions in art. Through an incisive re-examination of relations between the body, the natural world, and social forces, the works in this exhibition represent a new kind of hybridized humanity and iconography through the artist’s intuitive and forward-thinking eye.
Mutu’s work has long pulled at the threads of representation, creating powerful, evocative transpositions of the body, and bringing up equally powerful critiques of the modes of depiction, the materials used, and the media environment in which images circulate. Deeply rooted in art history, Mutu excavates the modes of representation throughout recorded time to arrive at new forms of womanhood with an eye towards an undiscovered future.
For this series of bronzes, the artist takes her work to the next step. The pieces exude grace and mystery, exuding a palpable energy and grave, both through their postures and their dense materiality. In Crocodylus, a human figure is perched on top of a gigantic reptile. Her legs tuck neatly under her own body and are embedded in the animal’s abdomen, giving the crocodile additional equilibrium. The rider harnesses the animal’s strength with her hands inside its enormous jaws, unafraid and unconcerned of its pattern of sharp teeth, mirrored in her own mouth. Both the woman and the crocodile are wrapped in a stylized exoskeleton with unbroken lines running all the way up and down each of their bodies blending where one begins and the other ends.
A similar combination of human, hero and animal is portrayed in Mutu’s monumental work, MamaRay. This remarkable twelve feet wide, partly human, as well as part Manta ray, represents a chimeric relationship with power, poise, and dynamism. MamaRay’s body envelops and emerges from the space around her, demonstrating a harmony of balance and strength, as well as a tenderness encapsulated by the sheer force of nature, while employing similar techniques in her earliest painting-collages and assemblage works, which critique the power of unequal representation that regulate the aesthetic and symbolic status of the gendered and racialized body.
Driving at unique modes of presentation and representation, Mutu’s work is an ambitious and engaging new wrinkle in already expressive and incisive body of work.
– D. Creahan
Wangechi Mutu at Gladstone Gallery [Exhibition Site]