“There is nothing more insanely visually interesting and repulsive than a body infected with tropical disease,” the Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu told Bomb! magazine in 2014, when asked about the textures seen in her unsettling yet enthralling collages of semi-human forms. Mutu, who as a child witnessed diseases that “create new worlds and universes on your body,” uses them in her work to explore the legacy of colonialism. Her latest commission, which fills the entire first floor of the Legion of Honor Museum, makes similar critiques regarding race and imperialism. Mutu reimagines Western traditions, conventions, and myths with an eye to her East African origins. Lying supine at the feet of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, which presides over the permanent collection’s survey of European art, are five bronze Savasana (corpse pose) sculptures. In brightly colored nail polish and stilettos, they hint at the violence of colonialism and the triumph of Western forces. Elsewhere, Mutu has crafted hybrid animal-women-goddess figures out of soil, bark ash, and gems indigenous to Kenya. Winking at history’s love affair with the Greeks and Romans—seen in the museum’s neoclassical architecture—she animates new gods of art. —C.J.F.
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