Nov. 17, 2005 - Jan. 15, 2006
Wangechi Mutu was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, and has been living and working in New York since the mid-1990's. Her video is inspired by the redemptive hymn Amazing Grace and its origins in the slave trade. The hymn was written in 1172 by an Englishman named John Newton who had been the captain of a slave ship before becoming a minister in the Church of England. Late in life, he became an outspoken opponent of the slave trade. The hymn's lyrics refer to a life of difficulty and travail redeemed by God's grace.
Mutu became familiar with Amazing Grace through the Presbyterian services she attended with her family in Nairobi. She was moved by its theme of spiritual deliverance and assumed that its origins were in the black culture of the American South. Only later did she learn of John Newton's authorship of the hymn and of his background in the slave trade.
The video features images of a young woman in a white dress wading along a shoreline and then immersing herself in the water. The white dress is suggestive of ritual and purity, while the woman's actions carry a range of interpretations from cleansing to drowning. Throughout the video, the voice of a woman is heard singing Amazing Grace in Kikuyu, Mutu's native language.
In Mutu's video, the history of the hymn, its redemptive message, and the imagery of the water combine to serve as a metaphor for deliverance from the depredations of the slave trade.
This presentation is organized by Miami Art Museum and curated by Assistant Director for Programs/Senior Curator Peter Boswell. It is supported by MAM's Annual Exhibition Fund.