Collection Explore
Interview
Wangechi Mutu
on Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors

The following interview was conducted via email between the Tang Teaching Museum and Wangechi Mutu in March 2020.


Tang Teaching Museum
What were your goals or initial thoughts when you started working with medical illustrations?

Wangechi Mutu
I was interested in pathology and diseases related to gender—how things that belong to the female body are considered unwell or unclean and what that looks like as a face.

TTM
How did those ideas evolve as you completed the series?

WM
I began to work on the prints with all different materials without any regard for the permanence of the surface or of the collage elements. The collage pieces on these frail medical illustrations changed into distorted portraits and slowly evolved as the “features” got moved around until I was satisfied.

TTM
While these prints focus on women and female bodies, one, Ovarian Cysts, includes the image of a man. Could you tell us more about that choice?

WM
I was interested in grafting onto these old prints all kinds of incongruous images that revealed a more accurate story about their historical significance. By altering the medical diagrams’ “look” or face or maybe even gender, changing their composition with photography, texture, using humor, irony, criticism can push the viewer to see these pictures anew and to recognize how problematic this perfect picture in science history seems to look. The time that these prints were made is a significant period when European explorers, colonial speculators, and scientists like Dr. Livingston were penetrating the African continent with the intention of colonizing. It is also a period when Western medicine and surgery grew tremendously through experiments done on Black African bodies. The gynecology tools used to penetrate and “explore” women’s bodies were tested out on enslaved Black Americans, and anesthesia wasn’t used during the surgeries.

I was trying to see what we weren’t really looking at by building a new face onto these images, letting the pieces fall into place by being both spontaneous and attentive to the ideas that were being worked on.

TTM
Tell us about the experience working with a printer.

WM
I worked with Hare & Hound Press, master printers in San Antonio, Texas, who are connected with the Artists-in-Residence at Artpace San Antonio. I enjoyed my experience because it was all very new, and I was joyfully learning so much each step of the way. They were the first professionals I worked with who pushed me to consider and worry about the idea of permanence and to think of my materials in an archival form.

TTM
Why did you decide to add physical materials like glitter and fur on top of each digital print?

WM
I wanted to invigorate the space with materials that felt alive, tactile, and had movement, or the feeling of it.

TTM
How do you see them functioning differently when displayed individually or as a group of 12?

WM
I never display them individually, nor do I want to. They are a suite that work well when viewed as stanzas in an entire poem. I feel like some function well on their own, some are more idiosyncratic and deranged, but all of them need one another; they need the set to feel like an accumulation of problems that are certainly looked at separately in medicine, but really are the difficult faces of different issues that women encounter from the inside out.

TTM
Is there anything else you’d like to share or want us to know about the prints, either logistically or conceptually?

WM
They were a break-through for me. At that time, around 2005, I was only just beginning to understand how much the bodies and the images I was collaging and painting with were reflections of my own inner state of turmoil and fear, my hopes, desires, and anxieties. That this attempt to make sense of it all by reassembling and reattaching was an act of survival and self-proclamation. I am not sure if I could even articulate this at the time. Nor am I sure I recognized that these realizations were imbedded within my subconscious.

What I was sure of was that living in this body of mine, the body of a Black African woman, with these immensely powerful experiences that were also immensely demanding, was exactly what led to these works being produced as you see them. I am glad I made these juxtapositions, and that I work both from research and from instinct to create associations between unlikely images look coherent and plausible. These collages gave me the first peek into how to draw myself out and articulate and amplify things I did not even know I could say and see about myself and the world around me.

Cite this page

Mutu, Wangechi. “Wangechi Mutu on Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors.” Tang Teaching Museum collections website. Last modified November 14, 2020. https://tang.skidmore.edu/collection/explore/253-wangechi-mutu.

Learn more

Serious Sparkle
Exhibition
Winter/Miller Lecture: Wangechi Mutu
Event
Wangechi Mutu
Artist
Cervical Hypertrophy [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Lara Ayad on Wangechi Mutu
Essay
Indurated Ulcers of the Cervix [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Molly Channon on Wangechi Mutu
Essay
Ectopic Pregnancy [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Ovarian Cysts [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Fibroid Tumors of the Uterus [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Adult Female Sexual Organs [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Uterine Catarrh [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Complete Prolapsus of the Uterus [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Primary Syphilitic Ulcers of the Cervix [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Cancer of the Uterus [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Tumors of the Uterus [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
Tumors of the Uterus [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors]
Artwork
i
Pattern by Madeleine Welsch ’17
Inspired by the exhibition Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent
The Tang Pattern Project celebrates the Museum’s 20th anniversary. Organized by Head of Design Jean Tschanz-Egger, past and current Tang Design Interns created patterns inspired by the Museum’s exhibition and event history.