Radical Interventions and Resistant Black Looks: Wangechi Mutu’s Transgressive Black Female Subjectivity

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Adasi, Akosua
Black Sexual Politics , Black Studies , Black Feminism , Black Feminist Thought , Art History , African Diaspora , Contemporary Art , Black Gender Ideology , Arts and Culture , Wangechi Mutu , bell hooks , Oppositional Gaze , Gaze Theory , Critical Race Theory , Kenya , America
The 2000s were a significant period in the development of Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu’s critical praxis. During this time, Mutu utilized collaging as a means of facilitating complex discussions about the representation of the black female body in popular culture. Her work, which takes into account the multifarious aspects of the imperial gaze and its influence on personal and collective identity proposes hybridity as a form of radical intervention and a way of (re)imagining blackness. The works selected here looks at how Mutu employs an oppositional gaze as defined by critical theorist bell hooks to interrogate and dismantle disparaging narratives put forth about blackness and black female subjectivity in particular in mainstream culture and popular discourses. The oppositional gaze as a means of creating transgressive black images/black looks in Mutu’s work shows how contemporary black sexual politics are tethered to historically derogatory assertions and stereotypes about blackness that reinforce the continued social and political oppression of black communities. During the 2000s, especially in the early to mid-2000s, Mutu produced works that physically and ideologically disrupted hegemonic Western tropes of blackness using collaging as an artistic strategy. The intimate and complexities of Mutu’s collages at this time created an opening for examining the development of defining and depicting the black female body and its integral relation to black sexual politics. My Master’s Thesis examines three of Mutu’s works in relation to the emergence of discourses of black feminism and Black sexual politics during the 2000s. In doing so, this thesis comparatively analyzes: 1) how the concept of the black female body has traditionally been inscribed and intellectually defined through Western visual culture to produce perspectives that uphold the social and political marginalization of black individuals; and 2) how Mutu’s work problematizes this one-dimensional view of black people and bodies through her art. The specific artworks included here reveal the adaptation of black feminist strategies by Mutu as a response to ongoing defamatory stereotypes about blackness. The works also demonstrates how Mutu simultaneously fractures her viewer’s gaze and encourage a critical view of the images’ original meanings using the oppositional gaze.
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