My Dirty Little Heaven
Wangechi Mutu at Deutsche Guggenheim
A double premiere: "My Dirty Little Heaven" is not just Wangechi Mutu’s first comprehensive solo exhibition in Germany: her presentation at the Deutsche Guggenheim also inaugurates Deutsche Bank’s 'Artist of the Year' programme.
||This heaven is not just for the gods or the dead. It does not look like the Baroque ceiling frescoes in cathedrals and churches, and also not like the paradise we know from historical representations or children’s books. Wangechi Mutu’s installation My Dirty Little Heaven has a deeply spiritual, maybe also sacral dimension to it. But the space which the Kenyan artist has created at the Deutsche Guggenheim is devoted above all to this world – to the very earthly fears, needs, and longings of a society that has moved far from heaven. At a time when large parts of humanity live below the poverty line, without the right to food, education, and equality Mutu’s vision of heaven is also imperfect and anything but pure: patched together, dirty, and improvised, full of smells, sensual impressions, and images where bodies, machines, and commodities are inextricably merged.
Deutsche Guggenheim is immersed in dim light. When you enter the exhibition hall you are confronted with a scenario reminiscent of a catastrophe. The walls are covered with dark felt-like blankets or bear brownish traces of water, as if the place had been flooded. Rows and clusters of collages and watercolours are hanging on the walls. Seemingly organic shapes also overgrow the pillars in the room, and in the centre is a huge table made of rough slats. Above it ,batteries of bottles are suspended from which milk and red wine drip into enamelled tin bowls and onto the floor. With My Dirty Little Heaven, Wangechi Mutu has transformed the Deutsche Guggenheim into a kind of surreal shelter reminiscent of a provisionally arranged refectory where the poor are fed. But the installation is also reminiscent of the shantytowns in huge cities like Lagos or Cape Town. For these shanties, everything available to the inhabitants gets recycled. Broken things are repaired, transformed, put together in new ways. The improvised huts demonstrate the desire to create a home for oneself in the face of adversity – one’s own ‘little heaven.’
This suggestive environment is the framework for Mutu’s new video work Mud Fountain. It is projected onto a monumental wall covered in brownish streaks of paint. The video shows a naked woman. She is exposed without protection to a kind of ‘mud rain’ which causes her to collapse slowly. A visual counterpoint to Mud Fountain with its coarse-grained images is the large collage Fallen Heads (2010), in luminous shades of red.. It shows a swarm of heads in watercolours, adorned with pearls and cut-out pictures of flowers, floating like water lilies before a pink background. For her hyper-aesthetic collages, Mutu uses images from such various sources as Vogue, National Geographic, sports and sex magazines, but also anthropological books. With these images, she creates hybrid creatures between humans, animals, and plants, monsters and machines.
The project for Deutsche Guggenheim is also inspired by the artist’s personal memories of Berlin. As a schoolgirl, she visited the city with her gospel choir. It was shortly after the Wall fell, and her impressions of the economic discrepancy between East and West Berlin, of the overpowering desire of the people from the former GDR for products they had hitherto only known from TV and which they seemed to worship like fetishes, were an important point of departure for her project at Deutsche Guggenheim.
My Dirty Little Heaven was conceived by Wangechi Mutu when she had become the first artist in Deutsche Bank’s 'Artist of the Year' programme. This new initiative aims at providing a long-term impetus to the career of the chosen artist. The artist of the year is introduced with a comprehensive solo exhibition, which after its premiere at Deutsche Guggenheim is shown in further international institutions. In addition, a selection of works is acquired for the Deutsche Bank Collection. The main focus is on supporting international contemporary artists who open up new perspectives and views through their work – like Wangechi Mutu. Her work challenges the beholder. It questions our notions of beauty, our idea of the other, the unfamiliar. The artist, who was born in Kenya and now lives in New York, addresses questions of black female identity in the contested field between western consumer culture, African diaspora, and postcolonial history. With exuberant collages, ink drawings, and site-specific installations, she interrogates the representation of female beauty, the seduction strategies of advertising and fashion magazines, and the consequences of cultural inequality. At the end of 2010, an entire floor of the modernised towers of Deutsche Bank’s Frankfurt headquarters will be dedicated to Wangechi’s works, as part of the new art concept for that building.