Wangechi Mutu is obsessed with the uterus. Her collages of dissected women initially appear brutal. But what’s underneath the layers of fur, anthropology diagrams and huge lips? Well absurdly, a beautiful female form. Strange considering that her pieces break the rules of symmetry that define our ‘universal’ code of attraction; but there is something about those images that is gorgeous—even if it requires a little eye adjusting to see. Perhaps it has something to do with how Mutu’s women are novel to the Western eye; distinct from the regular images of perfectly proportioned models in Vogue. The grotesque is all that more appealing when it is assembled on medical illustration paper.
Yet Mutu’s work is precise, and the organisation of her materials makes her work aesthetically sound. There is visual order arranged in contrasts, whether it’s a face in disarray, stuck on a strictly methodical diagram; or ugliness that glitters to produce a fantastical, almost divine aura—Mutu produces women who are otherworldly. This is surely an attempt to respond to the male eye. The desire we have to manufacture ‘perfect’ women.
But beyond this feminist agenda, Mutu’s work also explores the issue of race. Her images combine anatomical parts from white and black subjects, combined to produce a sense of racial unity and hybridity. Potentially the grotesque pictures distort the body to the extent that ‘normal’ definitions of race and gender cannot exist. In this way, Mutu succeeds in developing an alternative aesthetic which does not allow for us/them, black/white, him/her polarities that cause discrimination.
Wangechi Mutu was born in Kenya and lives in New York, her work is currently displayed at The Sachi Gallery, London.