MWANGI HUTTER

In the Vienna
Josephinum Collection
A sightless 
Ethiopian eye
Overclouded
By a gauze of grey silk

W. G. Sebald


French street artist, Jr, is currently in his own words, ‘focusing the eyes of the world on the women of Kenya’. This takes the form of constructing a vast rooftop installation, formed by photographs of the eyes and faces of women from Kibera, 2000 whole square meters of it, and best viewed using Google Earth. Mwangi Hutter has been trying to bring this plight to the attention of the world for more than a decade and from times predating search engines and their improvements to information exchange.
Things for Mwangi Hutter however have never been that simple and to argue that Kenya is the sole focus of his /her /their? attention would be as limiting as taking a more conventional name. The name itself represents the fusion, in all meanings of the word, between Ingrid Mwangi and her partner and co-conspirator, Robert Hutter. More than that however, all biodata has been fused, their dates and places of birth become one thus Mwangi Hutter, born 1975 in Nairobi Ludwigshafen. This duality manifests itself in so many ways, that of yin and yang, black and white and most crucially European, and more specifically German, and African, and more specifically Kenyan. The effect of this is simply terrifying. Mwangi Hutter become simultaneously both colonizer and colonized, civilized and uncivilized (which is which is left to the viewer to ‘complete’ the picture), oppressor and oppressed. The question of civility itself is an ancient one and whose origins are certainly non-European, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Mwangi Hutter. But the times are changing. The president of the most powerful country in the world’s origins are for the first time African and more specifically Kenyan and it would take a bold man or woman to suggest that the new incumbent is less civilized than his predecessor, whose own less deliberate cultural dyslexia has left the world an infinitely more dangerous place to tread. The picture is further darkened by the fact that Mwangi Hutter is essentially based in Germany, a country whose own population has always had problems with understanding its past, another duality, another point of departure.
Sebald’s eye was unsighted by the fabric of Austrian society, Mwangi Hutter’s lens is wide-ranging and all-seeing. The enemy is not out there, it’s here and probably living inside all of us.


© Richard Elliott, 2009

Article for NY Arts Magazine  May/June Issue 2009

by Richard Elliott