Kenyan, b. 1972
Poems by my Great Grandmother I, 2017
Red soil, mixed media, cow horn, wood, paper pulp, aluminum pots, metal rods, pencil
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 61 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro
Photo by David Regen
This kinetic sculpture, suspended from the ceiling and rotating in slow motion, alludes to the demise of oral tradition and the wisdom carried therein, as well as the significance of these histories as a collective cultural archive. Mutu has recalled that her father, concerned about the loss of important histories that had not been adequately committed to a printed record, recorded oral histories with Kenyans old enough to remember life prior to British colonization.

The title’s reference to Mutu’s maternal lineage and the teachers of mother tongue speaks of the artist’s conviction that in many precolonial traditions “women are carriers of the culture; holders of the family tree.” The association of familial stories with poetry is indicative of the power of these lyrical traditions that are omitted from formally documented texts.