Wangechi Mutu: a life in the arts

Photo credit: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine)

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu (UWC Atlantic College, 1989-1991) is a visual artist and activist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, whilst working on establishing a studio in Nairobi, Kenya. She is one of the leading contemporary African artists of recent years, and her art work has achieved much international acclaim.

It was at UWC Atlantic College that Mutu’s passion for the arts was nurtured. “I am grateful to Atlantic College for the part it has played in helping me to develop a distinct sense that a life in the Arts is possible”, she says. “I had a phenomenal art teacher at Atlantic College whose teaching method was very much to encourage self-reliance and to show burgeoning, super young people that art is a whole encompassing way of life, a vocation, and an everyday activity. It could be the way you develop solutions for the changes you want to see in the world; it transforms you as you transform the things around you. It could be the landing pad for the things that we imagine in our dreams and build in our heads”.  

Mutu moved to New York in the 1990s to focus on fine arts and anthropology studies. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Science in 1996, and then a Master's Degree in Sculpture from Yale University in 2000.

Her work has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide including at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Miami Art Museum, Tate Modern, London, the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Her first solo museum exhibition at a major North American museum opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, in March 2010. In 2013, Wangechi created her first-ever animated short-film, The End of Eating Everything, in collaboration with American singer and songwriter Santigold. The 8-minute video, which was commissioned by the The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, ruminates on our present state of mass consumption in contemporary culture. 

Wangechi’s art is global in nature and explores themes such as multiculturalism, contemporary African politics, colonialism, conflict in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Darfur, globalization, consumerism, gender, contradictions of female and cultural identity, portrayal of the female figure in contemporary media and the international fashion industry. Wangechi Mutu’s most recognizable work explores society’s stereotypes of female beauty and gender. She proposes the need for a multiple-consciousness and an awareness of identity as performance to be able to remake the rules that bind human imagination.

Wangechi recently launched Africa’s Out!, a platform that aims to initiate and create radical ideas that change the way people engage with Africa and, more specifically, the way in which Africans reach out to empower one another.
Find out more about Wangechi Mutu here.