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 Jenny Dorsey

    Posted: Apr 19, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Chef, writer, and artist Jenny Dorsey talks with us about her process and work, part of NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals.
    A light-skinned woman of Asian descent stands behind a large, wooden kitchen table that is full of two white dishes of finely plated food and various small, plastic to-go dishes., alongside a small bronze French Press coffee maker. The woman smiles and wears a grey tshirt under a black and white vertical striped apron.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Joli Livaudais

    Posted: Mar 31, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Joli Livaudais's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A light-skinned woman with short brown hair stands in front of a white wall to which paper beetles, sculpted out of photographs, are affixed. The woman holds a beetle in her open palm, while others are arranged atop her brown leather jacket. She smiles slightly at the camera while leaning against the wall.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Luisa Pastor

    Posted: Mar 10, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Spanish artist Luisa Pastor's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A beige rectangular work with fragments of small boxlike elements adhered together to create a textured surface.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight