Kenyan, b. 1972
Creaturas, 2018-19
Materials include: Red soil, wood, dried coconut shell, cowrie beads, snail shells, glass beads, Zulu grey beads, plastic jewels, ornaments, dried gourd, stones, paper pulp, soil, wood glue emulsion paint, cow horn, cow bone, and Plexiglas
Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery
Photo by David Regen
With her Creaturas, Mutu has invented a community of delicate, fantastical animals. These imaginary animals are animated, abstracted, and made singular; full of humor, wonder, and innocence. Since returning to live and work primarily from Nairobi, Mutu has found inspiration and joy in the time and natural space afforded by having her studio there. These Creaturas are a demonstration of the artist’s interest in animal folktales and myths, where they are seen as our equals, the “other people” in our landscape. “The plant and animal world impacts me in a really powerful way because it has its own power base, its own life,” Mutu has said.

For these works, Mutu sourced materials local to her studio, including shells, wood, and soil—including the richly hued red and black clays seen in many of her recent works. The sculptures that feature taut bodies integrate many of their disparate materials seamlessly: a rounded rump on one Creatura reveals itself to be a coconut shell only slowly; several wooden branches and bones are effortless stand-ins for legs. Cowrie shells, used for eyes and spots on the back of a young animal, also carry meaning of their own: they have historically been used as currency, as well as holy diviners of fertility and prosperity.