Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu is an artist and sculptor who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Mutu is considered by many to be one of the most important contemporary African artists of recent years, and her work has achieved much global acclaim.

Tell me about your background?

I’m trained in visual arts and studied sculpture. I came out of graduate school with the realization that creating objects and using space was going to be virtually impossible because I didn’t have the means, or the real estate to do it. So I started making collage work, and collage has been something I’ve been doing since being a student in school in Nairobi, all the way into when I was in school in Wales. It’s just a very accessible kind of format. I love drawing, but I also like cutting imagery and re-figuring what I find to be interesting in the real world in terms of publications and photographs of women. And then at some point I started working more in my collage work, and that’s actually how animation came about.

Is the short film you are premiering at the Sundance Film Festval, The End of eating Everything, your first shoot?

No, I’ve made videos for many years. They all fall under the art/video category. I’ve made performance videos where I enact very strenuous, or meditative activities to kind of question certain things happening. I’ve also made whimsical videos about strange fictional women that come out of my imagination. I often put myself in the videos, because I’m interested in these types of characters, but I’m also a little bit shy, so I use the videos and the camera as my singular audience to investigate these ideas and that’s how I create humor and criticism about these characters. Video came about mostly because it was available in graduate school when I was studying sculpture at Yale.

What is the film about?

Well I’ve had my moments of thinking about our present predicament of us as a human race, and how Earth is sort of in some kind of pain from the neglect, and the over consumption that humans have placed upon it. So I see Earth as an extension of us as a being, and I see the world as being somewhat female. It’s actually related to many things that I do. It’s related to this series of collages that I call the tumor series, with these kind of big, orb circles that are kind of like planets. I use these planets to sort of describe the sickness that we have created on Earth. I relate it to tumors and cancers because it’s internalized sickness, it’s a sickness that comes from within us. It’s not a meteorite that’s destroying Earth. It’s we who have created all these issues. So there’s this radical, political, stance I have about our position blended into this really simple narrative. I didn’t even think about it as a film that could be submitted to film festivals. I thought about it as a beautiful picture of our very ugly moment. But I have this very specific desire to make things look interesting in order for us to look at them long enough to actually learn more.

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Floating Heads.
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Santigold as the creature.

How did you get Santigold to star in your film?

I was an admirer of her work. I’m in my videos all of the time, and one of the things I always have a problem with is I can’t direct when I’m in my videos, so I always try out different camera people including my husband. I’m always kind of amazed how difficult it is to tell someone what you want when you’re in front of the camera, and so in this case I really wanted to be directing. I had a list of people and some friends, and one friend in particular, Guillermo Brown, said you should do something with Santi one day. I never actually knew he meant Santigold, and finally my friend Jeffrey Dietch emphasized that I should ask her, that he could connect me to her. I called her up, and she was really cool, and she came by the studio, and we had this great sit down where we just bantered about films and videos, and animations we liked. It occurred to me while we were talking that she was really smart, cool and that she gets it.

Where were you when you got the call from Sundance?

I was in the studio, like I always am. I live and work in the same building. I own a brownstone in Brooklyn and another studio where I make my sculptures. I got a call saying that the film had been accepted, and they were going to put it in this category that fit what I made it for. I was very happy, shocked and surprised.

What do you hope to get out of this experience?

I’m coming with my baby because she’s too young to leave her behind! One of the things that Sundance does is they actually give you list of all these things to go to, so I’ll do some of that. I’m not that strategically prepared for this thing, I’m going into this a little naively. I hope I get to watch other people’s films, and I hope that I can engage with people. I think I’m going to learn something that obviously I need to learn.

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Santigold in a scene from The End of eating Everything.

Name

Wangechi Mutu

Place of Birth

Nairobi, Kenya

Occupation

Artist / Sculptor