Dr. Joseph Gregory, curator and associate professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, describes African artist Wangechi Mutu as “one of the most original and respected African artists on the contemporary art scene. People can’t take their eyes off her work; it’s like a car wreck.”
The metaphorical work of Mutu, a Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based artist, is being featured as the inaugural exhibition of the newly expanded Leonard Pearlstein Gallery in the annex directly behind the Westphal College’s new URBN Center (3401 Filbert St.). “Mutu's art is particularly appropriate for a university setting because of the rich interests, ideas and concerns that her art engages,” Gregory said.
Mutu’s work combines poetic symbolism with the exploration of issues, such as female identity, western and traditional cultures, environmental desecration and the history of post-colonial Africa. Her inspiration for the pieces stems from 19th century Western science and its attempt to understand women’s reproductive systems.
The poeticism of Mutu’s work has inspired the likes of noted Philadelphia poet Sonia Sanchez, who will perform new work to complement Mutu’s exhibition at a celebratory reception this Friday, Feb. 22.
Gregory is the source of connection for both Mutu and Sanchez: “I thought that Sonia Sanchez's involvement in the gala opening would be a key factor in getting Wangechi to say ‘yes’ to an exhibition. So I asked Sonia if she would like to meet Wangechi Mutu, drove her to Brooklyn, they hit it off immediately, and the rest is soon to be history.”
“An artist of rising international fame such as Wangechi Mutu helps enormously to build the reputation of the Gallery as a first-rate venue for the display of serious art,” Gregory said. “Members of our campus community should find her art challenging and of extraordinary interest.”
The timing of the exhibit is also quite perfect, Gregory said. “I connected the dots: February is Black History Month; Wangechi is, in my opinion, the most exciting and original African woman artist around.”
Mutu uses everything from magazine clippings to found objects for the 10 collections of collages, sculptures and installations featured in the exhibition. The works include such pieces as Suspended Playtime (pictured below), which explores Kenyan children’s inventive practice of making soccer balls out of bundled and bound garbage bags, and The Histology of the Different Tumors of the Uterus, a series of collages based on early 20th-century medical illustrations.
“Collage is the instrument of disruption and estrangement that fractures the coherence of the artwork by introducing foreign elements from diverse sources,” said Gregory. “The monstrous figures that erupt from the fractured beds of scientific illustration are shocking and transgressive caricatures of misbegotten cultural and racial perceptions.”
Wangechi Mutu’s exhibition is open to the public now through Saturday, Mar. 30. The wine and cheese reception will be held in the Pearlstein Gallery on Friday, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m.
Tania Isaac, acclaimed dancer and Drexel Dance faculty member, has choreographed a new piece to be performed by members of Drexel Dance Ensemble during the reception.