MetCollects Episode 8 / 2019


MetCollects is an online feature that highlights works of art new to the Museum's collection through the fresh eyes of photographers and the enthusiastic voices of leading scholars and artists. Discover a new work each month.

My Strength Lies by Wangechi Mutu. 2006

Born in Nairobi in 1972, trained at Yale, from which she received her MFA in 2000, and currently based in Nairobi and Brooklyn, Wangechi Mutu is one of the most distinguished artists of her generation. The monumental diptych My Strength Lies is a masterpiece from Mutu's initial moment of critical triumph, and it exemplifies the very best of her work.

This monumental diptych is composed of two mixed media collages that each stand just over eight feet tall. Across these collages, Mutu stages a complex encounter between two deformed, fragmented figures. One figure is humanoid in appearance and bears attributes that identify her as female. She stands upright, towering over the viewer, while holding the bottom of her right leg. The other figure is more creature than human—only an incomplete pile of limbs that lays prone atop a bulging landscape. Each figure is built out of pools of ink, sequins, and scraps of collage material, mostly fragments of magazine images depicting both organic and industrial objects, from eyes and lips to car engines and motorcycles. Upon close viewing, the figures dissolve into glorious, acqueous abstractions. Mutu's two mechanomorphic hybrids are set within a post-apocalyptic, perhaps even extra-terrestrial backdrop.

Possible stories proliferate, but the general thrust is clear: we are witnessing the aftermath of a violent struggle, possibly an act of genocide, colonial incursion, or alien invasion. Mutu's narrative and setting might be bleak, but signs of hope and optimism are nonetheless present. Take, for instance, the intact, self-possessed black woman who stands astride the defeated figure, seeming to repair a wooden structure that extends outward in both directions. She represents the strength—both inner psychological courage and raw, physical power—referenced in the title.

My Strength Lies draws inspiration from the very kinds of art found in The Met collection, from African sculpture to Dada photomontage. Insofar as Mutu works across cultures, times, and places, she reflects the Met's global, transcultural, transhistorical perspective.

Kelly Baum
Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator
Modern and Contemporary Art



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