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It’s exciting to welcome a sculpture of this magnitude into our space. 'MamaRay' is a triumphant goddess figure, a protective guardian who will further connect our building to the surrounding green landscape and the sky above our glass-and-steel roof.

Trevor Schoonmaker, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum

Triumphant goddess figure, protective guardian

Three years in the making, a monumental bronze sculpture by Wangechi Mutu has arrived inside the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University—its first sculptural commission. Fifteen feet long and with a wingspan of 12 feet, MamaRay is part human, part manta ray and part supernatural creature.

The new sculpture anchors the museum’s 13,000-square-foot Mary D.B.T. Semans Great Hall. According to the artist, MamaRay envelops and emerges from the space around her, demonstrating a harmony of balance and strength, as well as a tenderness encapsulated by the sheer force of nature.

MamaRay was recently on view at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco as part of the site-specific exhibition, Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? The work was commissioned by the Nasher Museum with funds provided by Joan Kahn.

The Nasher Museum has a long history and strong relationship with Mutu, an internationally renowned, multidisciplinary artist whose work is part of the museum’s collection. In 2013, the Nasher organized Wangechi Mutu’s first survey in the United States, Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey, which presented more than 50 works, including collage, drawing, sculpture, installation and video. The exhibition traveled to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.

My work is to understand how we can all co-exist on this planet. So when I'm creating I find tranquility with my surroundings and within myself. It's all about putting into the work all of the best of what I've inherited and learned, so that I can understand how to exist with others as well as reveal how the misery, the crisis and the chaos we created are the oldest way we unfortunately learn what peace and equality really are. Like working on collages, or with the idea of fusions and hybridization, and creating harmony from fragments, it's a much tougher proposition than it seems.

Artist Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and currently works between Brooklyn, New York and Nairobi. Mutu’s work is fundamentally about the condition of being a human, especially from the perspective of an African woman. In the artist’s words: “How we experience, perceive and reproduce images of ourselves, as well as how we view and create images of others.” In her experimentation with figuration, Mutu’s work looks at the value systems that sit beneath these ideas of representation. Using volcanic red-soil, inks, bronze, photography, ash, bones, driftwood as well as film and performance, the figure is always present.

Mutu earned a master’s degree in fine art from Yale University. In 2019, she inaugurated The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Facade Commission with an exhibition entitled The NewOnes, will free Us. This fall, her work was included in Prospect New Orleans’ fifth edition, Yesterday we said tomorrow. She is the recipient of Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” award, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Award, and the American Federation of Arts’ Leadership Award.

Wangechi’s work is of course an expression of Black feminine power, but it is also a response to the natural world around us and an embodiment of our interconnectedness. It’s an iconic work that will no doubt become part of the museum’s identity.

Trevor Schoonmaker, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum
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