Comparative Guts

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Wangechi Mutu, Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (12 works) (2004–05)

Series of twelve collages on found printed medical illustrations, including printed paper, glitter, ink, adhesive tape and fur. © Wangechi Mutu. Courtesy of the artist

Wangechi Mutu works expansively across sculpture, film, collage, performance, drawing, and painting. In dialogue with Afrofuturism, feminism, critical anthropology and evolutionary biology, surrealism, and local and translocal African cosmologies, her open-ended practice recruits the found materials of history and culture, organic elements, and a capacious reservoir of myth and ideology. She creates unpredictable hybrids that model new ways of living in temporalities fusing past, present, and future. Each of the twelve works that constitute Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors deploys the material strategies of collage to scramble representations of the Black female body at the juncture of modern medicine, fashion, and pornography. Mutu intensifies the spectacular visuality of objectification to the point where it begins to consume itself. Building from old medical texts that taxonomize pathologies of the female reproductive system, she distresses the smooth surfaces that cloak the violence of dissection. Cut-outs of eyes, human (and non-human) mouths, and legs-turned-noses are spliced into the anatomical illustration’s demure curves, together with tufts of fur and glittery black hair. These new folds interrogate the foundational logic of the collage’s base layer. Lusciously rendered lips, pierced tongues, and open, blood-spattered mouths subvert hysterical anxieties about racialized female sexuality. Anatomized to the extreme and integrated into a new syntax, they meet head-on, and undo, biopolitical tropes of appetite that conflate mouth and vulva, hunger and desire, womb and gut.

(Brooke Holmes)