Cutting edge: collage and contemporary art

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu - contemporary collage art

Born in Kenya in 1972, but now based in New York, Wangechi Mutu creates richly detailed compositions featuring disturbingly dysmorphic figures.

Wangechi Mutu

The majority of Mutu's hybrid protagonists are female, prompting readings of her work as a critique of our obsession with notions of feminine beauty, as well as a wider condemnation of the debilitating pressures on women exercised by cultural and commercial forces.

As Mutu herself states, "I always look at how women are represented [in the media].... how we are composed and where we sit and what we wear. I think it reflects not only how people feel about women, but how society feels about itself".

If Mutu's own depiction of women correlates directly to such a view, society as she envisages it is a disturbing, violent arena of psychological and physical conflict.

This is reinforced not only by the deformed nature of her figures, but by recurring motifs of splattered blood, bullet holes and even, in recent works, decapitated heads.

Wangechi Mutu

Often overlooked in favour of more feminist readings, Mutu's engagement with the subject of global brutality and warfare - with particular emphasis on Africa - forms an important aspect of her work.

An early series of collages, for example, was provoked by the diamond trafficking trade in Sierra Leone, and specifically relates her misshapen figures to the violent disputes which have resulted in countless disfigurements among civilians.

In a 2007 show, massive piles of clothing laid on wooden platforms served as a sombre reminder of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Yet as if to partially compensate for the indignities and violations she portrays, Mutu's work also hints at empowerment, spiritual growth and even redemption.


Wangechi Mutu


Most obviously, the images themselves possess an undeniably lush, decorative allure, and although there's a possibility that this captivating quality at least partially aims to underline our unwillingness to look beneath the surface - a concern Mutu has often raised in interviews - there's a sense, too, that despite her bleak subject matter, life endures and prevails.

Similarly, many of her female forms are imbued with almost superhuman characteristics, often depicted as semi-mythical, animal-human hybrids, or sporting cyborgian mechanical limbs latent with power.

The constituent parts for these prosthetics are often clipped from motorbiking magazines - a traditionally male preserve inverted by Mutu's appropriation. "I use those machines," she has said, "and place them back into my work, giving (my subjects) surgery and extra strength."

The natural world also plays a distinctive role in Mutu's collage, on the one hand optimistically symbolic of fecundity and repair, but also, as the artist makes clear, contributing directly to the fraught, sinister atmospheres that ultimately define Mutu's work: "I often use plant life from catalogues that try to represent the jungle, the unknown place, the "dark continent." Because what is that place? It's mystery, danger, doom, and I love messing around with what that is."

 

 

Brion Nuda Rosch

Brion Nuda Rosch - contemporary collage art

San Francisco-based artist Brion Nuda Rosch creates bold collages characterised by spare, considered intervention and an often humorous edge.

Brion Nuda Rosch, new contemporary collage

Simple strips of tape disrupt access to an image while also whimsically resembling a rudimentary face (left).

This motif, a frequent element in Nuda Rosch's work, functions almost as a tag, a statement of presence that also carries obvious associations with looking, seeing and masking.

In other works, images are superimposed in order to exert an internal logic of continuity - jagged mountain ranges, for example, fortuitously coincide into a seamless horizon (below, left).

Other pieces playfully investigate possibilities for interplay between two apparently disparate sources, each cut and pasted onto the other in oddly evocative union.

Brion Nuda Rosch, new contemporary collage

Nuda Rosch has commented that these works "... are both humble and monumental. Minimal adjustments have been made, a waterfall placed over a waterfall, a new ridge placed over a mountain range ...." And while "these ideas are monumental in scale, almost impossible", they also serve, paradoxically as "non-monuments; they lack distinct meaning."

Brion Nuda Rosch, new contemporary collage
 

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