WANGECHI MUTU

September 23 - January 14

The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center

She gazes east across the lagoon, looking away from the approaching viewer, her ebony skin catching the sun and large tail curling behind her. Water Woman, 2017, a cast bronze sculpture by the artist Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born 1972 in Nairobi, lives and works in Nairobi and New York), sits perched atop a grassy mound at the foot of the amphitheater in the museum’s fourteen-acre sculpture park at Laguna Gloria. Rooted in myth and mystery, this siren figure—evocative of a mermaid—references both the dugong, an endangered relative of the manatee found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, and the East African folkloric legend of the half woman, half sea creature who entices and eludes (nguva in Swahili). The artist has said the nguva represents “bewitching female aquatic beings with powers to entrance and drown susceptible mortals.”1 In contrast to the ubiquitous Western iconography rooted in Hellenic, Nordic, and Anglo-Saxon depictions of silken-haired women with pale skin, here the siren is represented by the luminous, charcoal-colored female body, a vein of inquiry central to Mutu’s work.