Urgent Museum Notice

Artist Spotlight: Ingrid Mwangi—H-y-p-h-e-n-a-t-e-d Identity

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Four photographs, read horizontally from left to right, portray close-ups details of the artist’s body: her face, obscured by hands in prayer; a scarred back; hands pressed into upper thighs, and toes suspended over soil. With each picture, her skin appears increasingly dark.

“I use art to awaken consciences.”

Ingrid Mwangi

Throughout her career, performance and video artist Ingrid Mwangi has focused her artwork on the issues of a “hyphenated” identity. The daughter of a Kenyan father and a German mother and having lived in both continents, Mwangi (born in 1975) is fascinated by the Western culture’s desire to assign people a specific race or nationality.

“As an artist-performer, I react, interpret and question the clichés and stereotypes with which I am faced.” Mwangi continues, “In order to do so I have created an artistic strategy that consists in adopting the role of the other. I am a wounded being, a caged beast, the exotic creature, the naked queen.”

Four photographs, read horizontally from left to right, portray close-ups details of the artist’s body: her face, obscured by hands in prayer; a scarred back; hands pressed into upper thighs, and toes suspended over soil. With each picture, her skin appears increasingly dark.
Mwangi Hutter, Shades of Skin, 2001; Chromogenic color print on aluminum, (a) 15 3/8 x 29 1/2 in.; (b) 36 1/4 x 29 1/2 in.; (c) 36 1/4 x 29 1/2 in.; (d) 39 x 29 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Mwangi Hutter

Mwangi will often alter her body or images of her body to dispel these clichés and stereotypes, as well as offering hints in her artwork of Colonialism and the African Diaspora. The four-part video-still series in the NMWA collection, Shades of Skin, 2001, exemplifies what it means to be a global citizen.

The back of a medium-skinned person standing against a white background. There are diagonal, deep scars across the back.
Mwangi Hutter, Shades of Skin (detail), 2001; Chromogenic color print on aluminum, (a) 15 3/8 x 29 1/2 in.; (b) 36 1/4 x 29 1/2 in.; (c) 36 1/4 x 29 1/2 in.; (d) 39 x 29 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Mwangi Hutter

Each still is a close-up section of Mwangi’s body: her head, back, thighs, and dangling feet. As the series progresses, the skin tone darkens against the unchanging, clinical-feeling, neutral background. The subtle details in each still lead to a collective tension—the hands in prayer, scars on the back, one hand grabbing a thigh, and feet hovering over what seems to be a rough coastline (actually a cloth). The scars in particular reference not only the strained relationship between European countries and their former colonies but also African scarification rituals.

In 2005, after working together for several years, Mwangi and husband Robert Hutter have conjoined to become one artistic identity known as IngridMwangiRobertHutter, a double-bodied single artist. Merging their names and biographies together, they consider all new and old artwork as part of their collective. Currently, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia, the only museum in the country that emphasizes the works by and about women of the Africa Diaspora, is exhibiting thirteen of their works in IngridMwangiRobertHutter: Constant Triumph until May 14, 2011.

“‘Constant Triumph’ and Other Works by the Kenyan-German Artists Collaborative IngridMwangiRobertHutter on View at Spelman College Beginning Feb. 4.”  Spelman College: Museum of Fine Art.  Spelman College, 2004.  Web.  23 Feb. 2011.

Related Posts

  • Reclamation: Q&A with Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

    Posted: Jan 19, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Interdisciplinary artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz talks with us about her process and work, part of NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals.
    A olive-skinned woman smiles brightly, seemingly mid-laugh, as she sits at an office desk, her right hand placed beneath her chin. Her brown curly hair is worn in a cropped pixie cut and she wears cat-eye glasses. In front of her is a closed Apple laptop; the wall behind her holds two framed certificates or degrees, a framed newspaper, a wooden cross, and other pasted photos.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Paola Podestá Martí

    Posted: Jan 12, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Chilean artist Paola Podestá Martí's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Echiko Ohira

    Posted: Jan 05, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Japanese artist Echiko Ohira's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    In a white brick artist's studio, a small light-skinned Japanese woman stands amongst various supplies, including work paper, paper sculptures, scissors, glue sticks, and paint cans. She wears a black shirt and stares directly at the camera, unsmiling. Her black hair is pulled back and she has streaks of white hair at her hairline's part.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight