Arundhati Roy

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Wangechi Mutu



Simply put, Wangechi Mutu is one of the most important African artists of her generation. She explores art as more than a tool of expression, but as an inspiring and catalyzing force of change. Her work delves into issues of race, gender, sexuality and more, successfully functioning on two planes: As a means to an activistic end but also as an artistic end in its own right. We caught up with Mutu to discuss her recent endeavor, AFRICA’SOUT!, and learned a bit more about what inspires her in work and life.


NeueJournal: How can you best summarize the goal of AFRICA’SOUT!?


Wangechi Mutu: As a visual artist who has been extremely fortunate, working in my practice for about 15 or 20 years now, one of the most astounding things about art for me is its capacity to change people. Art can make people slow their judgments and make them address their prejudices.

So, AFRICA’SOUT! is actually born out of the idea that you can take art and present it to an audience that is ready for a special kind of change. In this case, it was Uhai Eashri and I, coming together to think about a way to address homophobia and other issues that are plaguing my country, all the way from gender inequality to sexuality inequalities. I also know that I’m not gonna stand on a pulpit and convince anyone that they shouldn’t be prejudicial. I have my own prejudices and my own things that I want to work on. I’m not a perfect person — that’s why I make art.


Wangechi Mutu — Family Tree (detail), 2012 Suite of 13, mixed-media collage on paper 16 1/4 x 12 1/2 inches each. Courtesy of the artist.


NJ: Who is your favorite hero of fiction?


WM: I guess right now it is Storm. She’s awesome. For very silly reasons, I love the fact that she is a superhero in the X-Men Mutant Family but she’s also an East-African woman with superhuman powers and such a fierce costume.


NJ: Who are your heroes in real life?


WM: My heroes in real life are Arundhati Roy. I think she is a very interesting writer and I think what she has been able to do, as an activist is also tremendous. She’s an incredible scholar, someone who does a lot of research and thorough historical work when she speaks about a social issues. She is amazing to listen to because she knows her shit. I also love Zaha Hadid — the amazing structures that she is working to bring to life. There’s something about the fluidity in her buildings that appeals to me so much. And Toni Morrison, the great Toni is like a godmother to everyone, but especially, black, ambitious, creative women.


NJ: What is your motto?


WM: Get up and address your fears every morning, and do it through your art.


Wangechi Mutu — Family Tree (detail), 2012 Suite of 13, mixed-media collage on paper 16 1/4 x 12 1/2 inches each. Courtesy of the artist.


NJ: What is your greatest extravagance?


WM: My home. I bought a home.


NJ: When and where are you happiest? Why?


WM: In my studio. In my house, near my family, my cat and my extremely hardworking awesome team. Just working.


NJ: What is your greatest fear?


WM: Not getting things done that I know I am capable of. Not working to my highest capacity. That freaks me out — I am here for a reason and I should fulfill it.


NJ: What are your favorite holiday pastimes?


WM: I like dressing up, so anywhere I can dress up: Halloween, Gay Pride, dinners. I like dressing up.


Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal