3 Pages

Wangechi Mutu

Early in Wangechi Mutu’s career, collage served as the medium in which the artist sketched

out ideas for her sculptures and performance. Now they have become distinct works in their

own right, ranging in scale from postcard to life-size. The collages are on paper or Mylar, and

incorporate a variety of materials-packing tape, paint, ink, glitter, cutouts from porn and

fashion magazines, African ethnographies, and medical illustrations. Mutu often adds cutout

lips, faces, eyes, legs, masks, and hair, to female bodies painted in a washed-out, mottled

style. Because several of her collages, such as Pin-Up (2001), Immigrant Nightmares (2001),

Forensics Forms (2004), and Ark Collection (2006), consider the female form, her work has

been linked to artists Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Shirin Neshat, Michal Rovner, and Marina

Ambrovic, who investigate culture and history as it is sited on the female body. Like Walker

and Sherman, Mutu also explicitly references sexuality, violence, and beauty. She extends this

allusion by grafting animal patterns and limbs onto her female characters. In Mutu’s words,

these elements refer to the “need to extend, perforate, change, or shapeshift [the] body in

order to exist.”1 This need to move and shift actively resists the notion of fixed identity, and

simultaneously acknowledges the pressure and expectations to “perform” certain aspects of

one’s identity (such as gender).