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A new work of art is finding a home in Whitman College’s Penrose Library this spring. The community has the opportunity to learn about the new piece in a video created by the Sheehan Gallery

The piece, “Underground Hornship” by Wangechi Mutu is a bronze sculpture reminiscent of an antler shed. The majority of the work has a black patina, with the tips a vibrant polished bronze.

“Getting a piece of Mutu’s is quite a coup,” said Daniel Forbes, director of the Sheehan Gallery. “Her work is really extraordinary in that she deals with bodies and issues of race and gender in very profound ways. It’s very raw and visceral.”

Local Ties Cast in Bronze

Art History and Visual Culture Studies Associate Professor and Garrett Fellow Lisa Uddin has taught Mutu’s pieces in her courses, and had the opportunity to meet with the artist while she was having pieces made at the Walla Walla Foundry, founded by Whitman alumnus Mark Anderson ’78.

Born in Kenya, Mutu splits her time between Nairobi and New York, where she keeps a studio in Brooklyn. Recently, the artist had four large bronze sculptures cast at the Foundry. The sculptures, titled “The NewOnes, will free Us,” were installed on the façade of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in fall 2019.

Uddin is excited about the piece, especially considering the traditional role that bronze plays in the art world, and how it evokes a feeling of Western cowboy art.

“There's something strangely aesthetically local and specific, Uddin said. “Mutu is playing with the vocabulary of abstraction and thinking about how it can be bent and twisted, and how even the history of bending and twisting is part of modernism.”

Uddin is already planning on how she can use the piece in her teaching, as well as how other departments may also be able to use it.

“The Art Department could teach with this piece in multiple ways. I plan to teach with it in my course on modernism, as well as my Blackness in Art class. Art history as a whole will be able teach with it in our intro classes in terms of, for example, the history of bronze and its value in the Western European tradition,” she said. 

“Underground Hornship” isn’t the only new work joining Whitman’s collection this year. Another bronze, “Hour of Invention” by Brad Rude, will also be installed in Penrose Library.