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Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us

Go behind the scenes with contemporary artist Wangechi Mutu, who discusses the inspiration and making of The NewOnes, will free Us, an exhibition of four sculpture that inaugurate The Met's annual facade commission, on view September 9, 2019, through January 12, 2020.

Director: Kate Farrell
Producer: Will Fenstermaker
Assistant Producer: Melissa Bell
Editor: Stephanie Wuertz
Director of Photography: Jonathan Chekroune
Cameras: Alex Rappoport, Stephanie Wuertz
Camera Jib: Kelly Richardson
Camera Jib Assistant: Foster McLaughlin
Production Coordinators: Christopher Alessandrini, Bryan Martin
Production Assistant: Anna Oehlkers
Time-Lapse: Scott Geffert, Heather Johnson
Original Music: Austin Fisher

Works of art © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Additional images © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

© 2019 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Video transcript

My name is Wangechi Mutu. I'm a visual artist, born in Kenya, Nairobi. I feel like this particular commission of asking a contemporary artist to place something in these niches in the facade of The Metropolitan, for me, is one of the most proactive moves that a museum could make at this particular moment. The space has been empty since the Museum was built. When The Met approached me about this idea, I was actually looking at caryatids. Caryatids, throughout history, have carried these buildings to express the might and the wealth of a particular place. In Greek architecture, you see these women in their beautiful robes, and then in African sculpture across the continent you see these women either kneeling or sitting, sometimes holding a child, as well as holding up the seat of the king. It felt like this was a very ubiquitous position for women across many, many histories. How do I use this figure to change this conversation and this issue? I wanted to keep the D.N.A. of the woman in an active pose, but I didn't want her to carry the weight of something or someone else. The process of taking it from drawing into 3D has been quite epic. Once these molds had been produced in a much larger scale, I really worked hard to individualize everything that really expresses humanity to us. After they had been cast in bronze, I went in to work on the patinas. And that's when I was going to have to go in and paint them in fire and really make them alive. Because they're going to be in front of all of these people, I wanted these things to be about how form and material actually impacts us. How they look is very much about what they mean. I created these coils that I've put all the way around their bodies that felt tactile and living and fleshy, but at the same time really protected the women and gave them kind of a privacy and a regal nature. They became almost like soldiers, like they were in armor. And the circular form actually comes from traditional African adornment: Ethiopian, Sudanese tribes that have these incredible lip plates. They're mostly worn by women of status. So I've turned them into mirrors. They're able to take light and twist it around; they're able to flash at you from a distance. Women's bodies are always at the front of so much of the expression, the hostility, the magnificence of how humankind sees itself. I think of these women as characters that have the capacity, the freedom, and the opportunity to be where they need to be, to say what they have to say. They're here, and they're present, and they've arrived.