“Both Easy And Difficult To Look At”

Teju Cole also describes the work of artist Wangechi Mutu as “seductive in their patterning, grotesque in their themes”:

[Mutu] calls herself “an irresponsible anthropologist and irrational scientist.” Charged with historical misuses of science, her images Mutu_Hundred_Lavish_Months_of_Bushwhack_2004underscore the way female bodies can act as measuring devices of any society’s health. Her women respond to their environments with both intelligence and agony. Some are skinless, the rush of veins and colours alarmingly visible. Many are powerful, muscular, lithe, in heels, half-cyborg at times, often erotic, sometimes dangerous. Some are influenced by real women: Sarah Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus who was shown in European fairgrounds), Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones and Tina Turner. It’s an all-star line-up of black women who had fiercely ambiguous relationships with the racial and gender tropes imposed on them.

Mutu’s work is sensual, delighting in the materiality of its media (paper, paint, mica, wool, Mylar). Seen in a gallery, the organic forms, hybrid anatomies, wild hair, machine-like forearms, delirious patterns and compound eyes coalesce in a way that no digital reproduction can quite match. And what is true of the pictures is doubly true of the sculptures and installations, which also make use of smell and sound: dripping bottles, fermenting wine, rotting milk.