Collage Heroine: Mangechi Mutu at the Brooklyn Musuem

Mutu_Riding-Death-in-My-Sleep_428H“Riding Death in My Sleep”

Today I checked out an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which was phenomenal, and so inspiring to see. Wangechi Mutu is a collage artist, working with fabric, beads, magazines- from fashion to pornography to medical journals, spray paint and glitter on mylar. It’s a fantastically broad and messy mix of media which she uses to create portraits of women, in fantastical stories, which bring to mind fairy tales, myths, new versions of Adam and Eve, and a reclaiming of the stories of African American Women.

“Sampling such diverse sources as African traditions, international politics, the fashion industry, pornography, and science fiction, her work explores gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the exoticization of the black female body.” *

389.737      “A Shady Promise”

2013-10-20 17.06.51

She plays with the idea of past and present, and or perceptions of what those terms mean to us, challenging traditional notions of the set time line, and the idea that the past is set in stone. She is looking at them from a very afro-centric perspective, looking at African history and creating a modern vision for the future as if the past had played out differently. Her imagined future is completely fresh, an original look at sci-fi and steampunk, coming from her unique Kenyan vantage point.
CRI_110239“Yo Mama”

“Mutu encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.” *

Mutu_244_EatDrinkSwanMan01_loresImage Courtesy of Catherine Waglely for the Daily Serving

I love her use of magazine spreads, and fashion photography, particularly in that she uses these depictions of women- which in their original context create images of women that barely eat to stay thin and are all about sex, to create women that are creating their own mythical journeys and stories outside of the box the media wants to pop us neatly into.

“I always look at how women are represented [in the media],” […she says…] “I look at how we are composed and where we sit and what we wear. I think it reflects not only how people feel about women, but [also] how society feels about itself … I’m obsessed with it.”**

However, “there’s more to it than Hannah Höch-referencing feminist readings, or Romare Bearden-referencing racial interpretations.”**

This is woman creating stories for women, and in a time the oral tradition of women’s fairytales have long been forgotten, or neatly written down and turned into moral tales by men (thankyou Charles Perrault), a much needed reminder of how we can create our own future.


“Once Upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her”

** An interview with Mangechi Mutu from ArtMag

* Brooklyn Museum of Art Website

For more info also see:

All other images from

Brooklyn Museum of Art Website



About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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