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In this work, Wangechi Mutu constructs a female-dominated creation mythology, as if to explain the origin of the universe and life as we know it. The group of thirteen composite figures presents the original ancestral pair, their three children, the two spouses of their children, and six grandchildren.

At the top sits the powerful primordial couple, Original sky and Original land, an intergalactic union of the heavens and earth. Original sky is at once primitive and futuristic, a combination of human, animal, alien and mechanical parts. Original land is grounded in landscape, a great silver mountain rising from the earth with a tree holding up its center as if it were the rocky figure’s spine. This relationship to the land aligns with Mutu’s Kikuyu cultural background. The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and Kikuyu legend holds Mount Kenya as the site of creation, the place where human life began. On the far left side, set apart from the rest of the family, sits Prodigal sun daughter, who gazes slightly up and back toward her two parents. While the entire group could be interpreted as demigods, this daughter holds a special place in the family. A sun in the upper left corner shines down on her, marking her as extraordinary and different, set in a dreamlike landscape that overflows with color and warmth.

Most of the figures in "Family Tree" are composed partly of illustrations of human organs from old medical journals. By using these images, Mutu equates early medical advancements, and specifically dissection of the human body, with the colonization and carving up of the African continent. More broadly, Family Tree demonstrates Mutu’s long-standing interest in transformation and adaptation as necessary means of survival.

Details

  • Title: Family Tree
  • Creator: Wangechi Mutu
  • Creator Birth Place: Nairobi, Kenya
  • Date Created: 2012
  • Location: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
  • Physical Dimensions: dimensions variable
  • Type: Mixed Media
  • Publisher: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
  • Rights: © Wangechi Mutu
  • External Link: https://nasher.duke.edu/exhibitions/wangechi-mutu-fantastic-journey/
  • Medium: Installation of 13 mixed-media collages on paper
  • Art Form: Mixed Media
  • Credit Line: Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Trent Carmichael, Blake Byrne, Marjorie and Michael Levine, Stefanie and Douglas Kahn, and Christen and Derek Wilson.

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