Mixed-media artist Wangechi Mutu explores womanhood at this year’s Adderley Lecture at MassArt.
Founded 142 years ago as the country’s first—and still only—public college of art, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design was imagined as a school that would foster the Commonwealth’s mind, body, and spirit. Since then it has produced a host of notable artists, including William Wegman, Ricky Allman, and Kelly Wearstler. And each year, MassArt opens to the public for its free Adderley Lecture, which has been delivered by poets, activists, and, of course, visual artists. Although not always household names, Adderley lecturers have gone on to win the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant,” to be named poet laureate, and to participate in the Venice Biennale. “Lecturers are not told what to speak about, but it’s a way to introduce their work, viewpoints, ideas, and methodologies,” says Lisa Tung, curator of the school’s David and Sandra Bakalar Gallery and Stephen D. Paine Gallery, which showcase contemporary art. “We want people to think about art differently.”
Taking the podium on March 3 for the esteemed lecture’s 20th anniversary is African artist Wangechi Mutu, fresh off retrospectives in London and Sydney and an exhibition that toured the United States. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu moved to the US to study art and anthropology. Now based in Brooklyn, she is best known for her works depicting women in large-scale collages fusing found materials, sculpture, and painting. “The work is flowy, lyric, and sometimes very disturbing in that she’s representing women in new ways,” Tung explains. “She’s redefining what women can be perceived as.”
Mutu’s women are often fantastical creatures—a cross between glamazon runway model and something born from the darkest recesses of outer space. (Imagine gorgeous women who also have the ferocity to gobble up mankind.) As part of her lecture, Mutu will present slides of her work, and attendees will have a rare chance to hear the artist describe her inspirations as well as the historical contexts of her pieces. “She knows that there has been a history of objectification of black women or creating particular stereotypes, and she turns that upside down by mixing all of these elements of nature, biology, and sometimes a landscape,” Tung says. “The images are definitely meant to provoke.” They’ve certainly stirred up the art world, with Mutu recognized as one of the most significant African artists working today. Established in the pioneering, public-spirited ethos of the 19th century, MassArt continues to be state-of-the-art. 621 Huntington Ave., 617-879-7000