The work of provocative Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu was featured as the inaugural exhibition of the newly expanded Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University. Opening celebration and reception was held at the gallery on Friday.
Noted Philadelphia poet Sonia Sanchez performed new work written to complement Mutu’s art, and acclaimed dancer and Drexel faculty Tania Isaac choreographed a new piece performed by members of Drexel Dance Ensemble.
Using a blend of materials such as magazine cuttings, paint, charcoal, glitter and objects, Mutu’s work explores themes ranging from female identity and definitions of beauty, western and traditional cultures, environmental desecration and the history of post-colonial Africa.
Helen Coleman is an English teacher at Girls High School and attended the reception with her student.
“I liked the photograph I saw of Suspended Playtime,” she said. “The visual representation of the soccer balls and the lineup for the evening drew me here.
“Poetry, art and entertainment – this is full circle for any art enthusiast,” she added.
When exhibition curator Joseph Gregory first saw one of Mutu’s collages on display at The Museum of Modern Art, he was impressed by what he viewed.
“I knew that one day I would get her to Philadelphia,” he said. “She’s a newcomer and already an international star. Like others, Gregory was intrigued by Mutu’s originality and power in her work.”
The exhibition features more than 10 collections of collages, sculptures and installations, including such highly regarded works as Suspended Playtime, which explores Kenyan children’s inventive practice of making soccer balls out of garbage bags.
Cancer of the uterus and ectopic pregnancy are not the typical subjects of works of art, but that did not stop artist Mutu from incorporating them into The Histology of the Different Tumors of the Uterus, a series of collages based on early 20th century medical illustrations.
Other pieces in the exhibit include four video installations. One is called Cleaning Earth with images of Mutu scrubbing a dirt floor. This piece of work represents the futility Mutu feels in the work she is doing by trying to break the cycle of objectification of Black women and false definitions of beauty and identity.
Mutu was born and raised in Kenya before moving to New York to study anthropology at The New School for Social Research and Parsons School of Art and Design. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1996 and an Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale in 2000.
“She is as major as they come for contemporary artists – from Brooklyn via Nairobi,” said Dotun Akintoye, who attended the Mutu’s exhibition on Friday.
Mutu’s work is housed in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art and has been featured in numerous collections throughout the world.
The new Leonard Pearlstein Gallery has over 3500 square feet is located at the URBN Center Annex at 3401 Filbert St. Mutu’s exhibition will be on display through Saturday, Mar 30. The gallery is free and open to the public.