A New Monograph Follows the Evolution of Wangechi Mutu’s Mythologizing Practice
A new monograph published by Phaidon delves into the multi-faceted work of Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu (previously). The first of its kind, the volume packs hundreds of artworks, glimpses into Mutu’s Nairobi studio, and her own writings within its 160 pages. Known for mythologizing, the artist often incorporates found, organic materials like soil, feathers, bone, and ephemera into her collages and sculptures. The works broadly explore gender, sexuality, politics, and the natural world through expressive, hybrid figures imbued with otherworldly lore.
To coincide with the book’s release, Phaidon has a limited-edition print available featuring Mutu’s dreamlike “WaterSpirit washed Pelican.” Explore an archive of her works on Instagram.
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Sisyphus Eternally Pushes a Boulder Up a Mechanical Incline in Ross McSweeney’s Nimble Automata
More than one version of the Greek myth of Sisyphus chronicles the king’s slew of misdeeds on Earth, which amount to cheating death not once but twice. This earned him an infamous punishment from Hades, the god of death and ruler of the underworld, who sentenced the legendary figure to roll a boulder up the side of a mountain only for it to roll back down again as soon as it nears the top—for eternity. Glimpsing the mythical inner machinations, artist Ross McSweeney designed an intricately detailed, laser-cut wood automata that animates the classic tale.
McSweeney’s kinetic sculpture features a laboring Sisyphus pushing the stone up an incline as he is eyed by a (perpetually patient!) vulture. Beneath the surface, a cross-section of classical columns reveals a devilish figure who cranks an elaborate set of gears. The device is operated by turning a dial on the lower right side, and McSweeney demonstrates the mechanism in a video in which he also showcases different operating speeds.
The artist designed additional do-it-yourself kinetic constructions of a tiger, a running horse, and the surface of water that undulates with droplet rings. McSweeney shares videos of the automata on YouTube, and you can find detailed patterns to construct your own sculpture—which he takes great care to avoid being a Sisyphean task!—in his Etsy shop. (via Laughing Squid)
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Vibrant Patterns Envelop Dozens of Mythical Animal Sculptures That Explore the Folk Art Traditions of Mexico
In Guardians, artists María del Carmen Mendoza Méndez and Jacobo Ángeles Ojeda, of Jacobo and Maria Ángeles Workshop, pay homage to the mythical creatures of their Oaxacan childhoods. The husband-wife duo carves the soft wood of the copal tree into fantastical creatures that reference Mesoamerican spirituality and Mexican folk art, including the sculptures known as alebrijes. They refer to the unearthly characters as Tonas and Nahuales and cloak the birds, butterflies, and beasts in vibrant patterns and Zapotec symbols. The artists describe the protective works:
Guardians are brave creatures who safeguard their tribe. These mythical characters from the tale ‘Nomads’ hold their heads high by accepting the responsibility of caring for, transporting, and defending everyone. (Theirs) is a story of resistance, persecution, and migration into a dystopian future, where science is blended with ancestral cosmovisions.
On view through January 12, 2023, Guardians is the inaugural show at the newly opened Mano Gallery in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The gallery is devoted to art and design from Mexico and to creating a space for artists interested in preserving mythology and the country’s heritage. Find more from Jacobo and Maria Ángeles Workshop on their site and Instagram.
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Tau Lewis’s Monumental Textile Masks Envision a Mythical Post-Apocalyptic Transformation
Translating to “the voice of the people is the voice of god,” Vox Populi, Vox Dei is artist Tau Lewis’s reimagining of historic systems and principles. The Latin phrase is often associated with the British Whig party and the establishment of secular democracies throughout Europe, although Lewis hones in on the saying’s lingering religious reference as she envisions enormous characters who’ve emerged from an apocalypse.
Six sculptural masks populate the gallery at 52 Walker for the artist’s ongoing solo show, which explores what she describes as “the incapacity of humankind to create structures of law, principles of morality, or hierarchies of government without a reliance on the imaginary.” The monumental works, the largest of which stands upwards of 13 feet, meld classical myths, contemporary science fiction, and the dramatic performances associated with Yoruban masking traditions. Focused on the idea of transformation following destruction, the collection engenders a joyful, hopeful outlook.
Born in Toronto and now based in New York, Lewis’s world-building is unique and particularly expansive as it connects myriad bodies of work: each character within Vox Populi, Vox Dei contains fragments of the artist’s earlier projects, engendering what she terms a “material DNA” that courses throughout her oeuvre. In a similar vein, the sculptures pay homage to the legacies of the fabrics themselves. The artist stitches salvaged textile scraps, donated leather, and remnants from a Long Island furrier into patchwork eyes and lips, tousled hair-like fringe, and vibrant floral tendrils that dangle and pool on the floor. Otherworldly and imposing, the works are totems for an imagined future.
If you’re in New York, you can see Vox Populi, Vox Dei through January 7, 2023, and Lewis’s work is also included in Black Atlantic, which is up at Brooklyn Bridge Park through November 22. Explore more of her genealogical archive on her site and Instagram.
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Fantastical Hybrid Characters by Toco-Oco Imagine the Mysteries of Human Nature
Playfully curious, a troupe of hybrid characters dreamed up by the Brazil-based Toco-Oco (previously) has an inclination for the mythical. Figures sporting feathered suits and wolves cradling human heads are imbued with mystery, and together, the otherworldly cast becomes a metaphor for the varied, emotional, and sometimes bewildering nature of human existence. Toco-Oco, which is helmed by Lara Alcântara and Guilherme Neumann, sells prints and the small sculptures, which are made of wax, wood, and clay, in its shop, although the works sell out incredibly quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on Instagram for information about new releases.
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Wangechi Mutu’s Sculptures in Bronze Populate Storm King Art Center with Mythical Beings
Storm King Art Center is situated on the ancestral homelands of the Lenape, a reference point that Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu returns to for a new exhibition at the outdoor museum in Hudson Valley. Comprised of her signature sculptures of immense hybrid figures, the largely bronze body of work addresses settler-colonialism and the inextricable tie between people and the land.
Perpetually evoking nature and mythology to address historical issues of contemporary relevance, Mutu positions women as the most powerful, revering their physical form and highlighting their innate connection to ecology. The artist’s latest work, “In Two Canoe,” features a pair of figures with branch-like appendages momentarily straddling a skinny vessel, their faces wrapped in mangrove leaves. “This plant has moved everywhere, has made journeys like those who were kidnapped from Africa and taken to the Americas. The water seals this unified story we’ve created for ourselves. We are all connected on this sphere of Earth and the water is how we go and find each other,” Mutu says in an interview.
Also on the Museum Hill site is the regal “Crocodylus,” a sleek reptilian creature that faces an opening in the trees. The scaly form corresponds with the massive coiled snake that occupies “Nyoka,” one of five sculptural baskets spread across the meadow. Inside the center are smaller earthen works constructed with natural materials like bone and soil gathered near her Nairobi studio.
Mutu’s sculptures are on view at Storm King through November 7, and she’s hosting a film screening at the museum on September 3. To follow her practice, head to Instagram.
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