Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?
Legion of Honor museum \ May 7 – November 7, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the “Museums”) are thrilled to announce Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?, a sprawling, site-specific exhibition of new and recently created sculpture, collage, and film by visionary Kenyan American artist Wangechi Mutu. Staked out from the Court of Honor through the entire first floor of the museum, the artist’s alternate universe of powerful female characters, hybrid beings, and fantastical landscapes, challenges traditional art histories, mythologies, and conventional techniques of archiving and remembering. Part of the Museums’ contemporary art program and three years in the making, I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? responds to the permanent collection and neoclassical architecture of the Legion of Honor; a museum built for the presentation of European art history, and presided over by Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.
“Wangechi Mutu’s powerful voice, urging us to reassess colonial legacies and societal power structures, will ring out loud to Bay Area audiences at the Legion of Honor,” states Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco “This important new installation in the Fine Arts Museums’ contemporary art program reminds us of the potential of art to challenge outdated narratives and uncover underlying truths.”
With roots in Kenya and the United States, Mutu moves voraciously between cultural traditions to challenge colonialist, racist, and sexist worldviews through her work. At the Legion of Honor, the artist introduces a group of works that merge the histories, conventions, and traditions of her Western formation with those of her East African origins. Alongside five bronzes, she also presents sculptures made of soil, trees, ash, animals, and gems indigenous to the Kenyan landscape and reflective of techniques used in the making of traditional African sculpture, ornaments, battle shields, and protective talismans.
“With a rare understanding of the power and need for new mythologies, Mutu breaches distinctions among human, animal, plant, and machine,” says Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge, Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “At once seductive and threatening, her figures and environments take the viewer on journeys of material, psychological, and sociopolitical transformation.”
Four bronze sculptures disrupt The Thinker’s splendid isolation in the museum’s outside atrium; the Court of Honor. Flanking The Thinker on either side, two Shavasana sculptures — limp, covered bodies with polished nails and brightly colored stilettos — lay bare the violence and bloodshed of colonial exploits as the unacknowledged subtext for the stories of triumph and victory of the history and art of the Western world. In doing so they give new meaning to the context of The Thinker’s creation as part of The Gates of Hell (1880-1917), a sculptural monument to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. Two new creations, Mama Ray* and Crocodylus* — two spectacular hybrid bronze goddesses that are part animal, part woman, and part alien — complete the new posse of powerful gatekeepers greeting visitors to the artist’s universe.
Dispersed throughout the galleries inside the Legion of Honor, sculptures like I am Speaking, Can you hear me?, Mirror Faced, Outstretched, and Sentinel IV invite the viewer to contemplate the possibility of a world defined by understanding, care, and protection of both people and the planet. My Cave Call, a new film by Mutu features the artist in the guise of a horned mythical creature seeking wisdom from the bowels of the Suswa Cave — a holy cave in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Acknowledging the enormity of the task ahead, her performance is both a dance and a prayer. In concert with her installation — large strands of beads titled Prayers—in the nave of the museum’s main Rodin collection gallery, the film gives shape to Mutu’s belief in, and love for, the divinity of the Earth, the power of woman, and the capacity of art to challenge established worldviews, and heal age-old wounds.
* Mama Ray is commissioned by Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and Crocodylus is commissioned by Prospect New Orleans. Both installations premiere to the public at the Legion of Honor.
Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? is organized by Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
About Wangechi Mutu
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu received her MFA from Yale University.
Mutu’s work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions and installations worldwide, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Contemporary Austin, Texas; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; and the Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina. Other venues include the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal; Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; Wiels Center for Contemporary Art, Brussels; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; and Kunsthalle Wien. Mutu was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and is the recipient of Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year award, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant, and the American Federation of Arts Cultural Leadership Award. The artist works in Nairobi and New York.
Contemporary Art at the Legion of Honor
Overseen by Claudia Schmuckli, the Museums’ contemporary art program launched in 2016 to present the work of living artists in dialogue with the Museums’ unique buildings and permanent collections. In the program’s first four years, installations by Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto, Hilary Lloyd, Leonardo Drew, DIS, Ranu Mukherjee, and Matt Mullican transformed the de Young’s Wilsey Court. At the Legion of Honor, Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Julian Schnabel, and Alexandre Singh each presented exhibitions in dialogue with the architecture and the collection of works by Auguste Rodin. The latest contemporary art exhibition Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI is on view at the de Young museum through June 2021.
Visiting \ Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco. The Legion of Honor reopens to the public on May 7, 2021. More information regarding tickets can be found at legionofhonor.org.
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Presenting Sponsor the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Major Support: Ford Foundation, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Significant Support: Victoria Miro, London and Venice.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Contemporary Arts Program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Significant support is provided by The Harris Family and the Vance Wall Foundation. Additional support is provided by Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle, Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin, Shaari Ergas, Katie Hagey & Jill Hagey in memory of their mother, Mary Beth Hagey, Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Lore Harp McGovern, Jessica and Jason Moment, Katie Schwab Paige and Matt Paige, Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Schwab, David and Roxanne Soward, Gwynned Vitello, Zlot Buell + Associates, and the Contemporary Support Council of the Fine Arts Museums.
About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States.
The Legion of Honor was modeled after the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. It offers unique insight into the art historical, political, and social movements of the previous 4,000 years of human history, with holdings including ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.
Helena Nordstrom, Associate Director of Communications \ email@example.com \ 415.465.3531