Challenging centuries of art history, white and masculine, is what the African artist Wangechi Mutu proposes with its provocative sculptures of black women, installed alongside classical pieces by artists such as Rodin in a museum in art traditional, that of the Legion of Honor of San Francisco, in USA.
Just enter, two black women lie dead at the foot of Rodin’s thinker. Inside, another woman with bumpy skin reclines in front of a white, nude Venus. In the adjoining room, two busts of African women dressed in an animal jaw and a shell converse before a painting by Rubens.
The impact on the visitor, unaccustomed to this type of “aggression” in a museum of traditional European art, is enormous, and encourages just the type of reflection that the Kenyan artist living in New York seeks with these juxtapositions. “From the beginning, the idea was to integrate Mutu’s work into the museum’s collection of European art,” says the exhibition’s curator, Claudia Schmuckli, who attends Efe at the doors of the impressive neoclassical building, in front of the triangle which now form the Thinker and the two dead figures.
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“It is a reminder that this museum offers a version of the very specific art history, one that for a long time was exclusive and the only one that was propagated in the West. But we must always be aware that there are many art histories and all of them must be considered equally “, he points out.
The two bronze figures at the foot of the Thinker, with high heels, painted nails and covered with palm leaf mats, are not anonymous figures, but represent Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old African-American who was brutally murdered without apparent motive for a white man in the Oakland (California, USA) subway in 2018.
The presence of lifeless bodies, placed right under the watchful eye of Rodin’s most iconic sculpture, creates an intense dialogue between the three pieces and gives new meaning to the French master’s work, which in the past hundred years has been used countless times to represent philosophy and contemplative thought. This sculptural triad is flanked by two other women from Mutu: the hybrid goddesses Mama Ray and Crocodylus, who are half woman and half animal (a ray in the first case and a crocodile in the second), both warriors, in attack position and that protect the entrance to the museum.
Mutu pulverizes stereotypes
“Wangechi Mutu pulverizes stereotypes. In her work, women, nature, machines, animals and the Earth itself are amalgamated in a symbiotic, feminist and post-humanist worldview, “explains Schmuckli.
Another of the strongest contrasts is in the part of the museum dedicated to medieval European art, with great presence of Spanish altarpieces: in this room loaded with Christian iconography, with representations of powerful bishops, the Virgin and Christ, Mutu places an amorphous goddess, halfway between a woman and wild nature. Looking terrifying and imposing at the same time, the goddess of Mutu is herself an amalgam of paper pulp, white glue, emulsion paint, charcoal, ink, wood and seashells, a return to earthly nature in front of the celestial divinity of Christian theology.
‘Wangechi Mutu: I’m talking, are you listening to me?’ can be visited Until the 7th of November in the San Francisco Legion of Honor and the price of general admission (which includes the exhibition) is $ 15 (12 for over 65s and 6 for students).