The following feature appears in the September 2017 issue of NYLON.
“That’s always a tough one,” curator Heather Pesanti says when asked why she loves the work of the 45-year-old Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based artist Wangechi Mutu, whose solo show at The Contemporary Austin opens this month. Pesanti pauses, possibly considering the many themes present in Mutu’s oeuvre of sculpture, collage, and video, then answers. “She’s got so many layers to her work. There’s the spiritual and cosmological side, and then there’s the supernatural and sci-fi side. There’s the African folkloric side and the Afro-futuristic element, but these are all indirect. They’re nuanced and nondidactic in the way that [she] goes about it.”
Pesanti believes that Mutu’s recent relocation to Kenya has contributed to the shift from the two-dimensional collage depictions of black female figures that she is best known for. “She grew up in Nairobi and then moved to the U.S. [in the ’90s] to study art. She now has a studio in Nairobi and more of her art-making is happening there,” Pesanti says. “The earth and the clay of Nairobi are coming into her work in a really big way.” According to Pesanti, Mutu refers to her birthplace as her “alien mother,” since she hadn’t spent time there in so long that parts of it feel familiar, but in many ways, it also feels foreign.