Mutu’s diptych Yo Mama pays tribute to Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, the mother of the famous Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti. A pioneering feminist, said to have been the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car, Anikulapo-Kuti fought against the practice of female genital mutilation. Mutu depicts her symbolically as the biblical Eve, triumphantly slinging a headless serpent across her shoulder while her stiletto boot mutilates the snake, an intrusive phallus. In the artist’s words, “The figure exists in an imaginary outer space, clutching a mangled serpent, the phallic and mythological creature that instigated the downfall of Eve.... The image and title are infested with the inherent contradictions that were the experience of a radical like Funmilayo. A visionary and brave fighter, she was caught in the upheaval of the creation of a nation’s identity.”
Yo Mama is emblematic of Mutu’s collage strategy, which often mingles the glamorous sensuality of full lips and curled lashes with haunting violence and severed limbs. In appropriating details from magazine clippings, Mutu may generate facial features mismatched in scale, resulting in figures simultaneously alluring and strange. These layered references and remixed body politics contribute to an interrogation of otherness, race, alienation, and female representation.
There is no singular question at the core of Mutu’s work. The artist has said, “The idea of clearcut binaries—African/European, archaic/modern, religion/pornography—I’ve never really believed in that. I’m interested in powerful images that strike chords embedded deep in the reservoirs of our unconscious.” Here, atop a pink palette and leaping between two panels of opposing gravitational forces, the figure represents the feminist challenge—woman as both warrior and creator. The dualities and even multiplicities in the work are as tangled as the coiled serpent.
Additional text from Magazine, February 2021