MWANGI HUTTER

By Solvej Helweg Ovesen, An exhibition by Mwangi Hutter


Oneness. Oneness, a unity of two, as in love, as in a family, as in joining two otherwise separate, yet complementary parts or positions. As in the unity of humans and God, or holistically as in the unity between me and the rest of the world, between people of different descent. On a communicative, emotional basis? How is it constituted and how is it happening on a daily basis? How can we understand and attempt oneness in a world of individualism, of generic race and gender conflicts, or in a world focused merely on difference?

These themes are central in the two video works that Mwangi Hutter present at Galerie Wedding (The Act of Leaving the Body and Nothing Solid, both 2015), which ponder on the performative and collective nature of the duo’s endeavour, as they also involve themselves as performers as well as one of their daughters.

The exhibition Circling Around Oneness defines oneness as something different from being only one, and different from the techno movement's motto of being »alone together« as here the individual is more important than being together. From a Rastafarian vantage point, oneness could refer to I and I, a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Sociologist and Rastafari scholar Ernest Ellis Cashmore, the author of »Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England«, explains:

»I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness. ›I and I‹ as being the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we're one people in fact. I and I means that God is within all men. The bond of Rastafari is the bond of God, of man.«1

The term is often used in place of »you and I« or »we« among Rastafari, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah. The artists Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter lead -as many others these days- a culturally mixed relationship, both professionally and privately, which animates the questions and the joy of oneness; bridging between Kenyan and German embodied minds. They are parents of twins, another level of unity. As artists they have a history of involving and portraying their kids in their work. This show testifies to this life experience, too.

The window facade of the gallery space is colour-sprayed in black and white, creating a visual barrier and an enclosure of what is going on inside. Black and white unmistakably con- note difference, opposition, exchange between races, yet it is also the signature of Mwangi Hutter, who constantly invent new ways of composing and incorporating both, for instance in the paper works Circle Around Oneness, Your Madness in My Head or »Nothing Either Good or Bad, Thinking Makes It So, 2016. As it turns out, the coloured facade of Galerie Wedding is not a blocking, but a permeable surface; the black and white chalk colours are easily washed away or removed with a finger from outside. Looking inside one sees the projection of a man and a woman who are resting on their separate beds.

This video installation is titled The Act of Leaving the Body. The bodies lie singularly, in the same position, almost inactive, and are presented in mirrored projections. The focus is on the travel of the mind. The space depicted in this way seems hermetic. It is an intimate situation; the female body is covered with a black cloth, whereas the male body is uncovered. In the course of time and in what seems to be a ritual and a non-movement, the male body covers itself too. The two figures share the situation, but have different access ways of entering it. This work portrays a state in between life and death, empathy, shared experience, shared loneliness and perhaps also the detachment from a period of unity. A reflective state of a man and a woman circling around the idea of oneness, the death and revival of oneness, oneness despite the singularity of the body?

Nothing Solid, a video, and the matching photographic work The Concept, both 2015, are dedicated to the moment in which the artists’ daughter lets go of her long dreadlocks. The Concept depicts the moment before her weighty decision to cut o her dreadlocks and No- thing Solid shows the action itself. Hair as an embodiment of time, experience, identity, memory, genes and perhaps even symbolic community. In the video the young girl chops o her dreadlocks, however as each one is attached to a balloon, one after the other the dreads drift towards the ceiling. In a previous work Transference, 2014, the daughter’s hair was wrapped around the mother’s head.

Is a human being only one entity or are we only one whole in combination with something else after all? The exhibition explores the ways individuals merge with one another - through language, physicality, spirituality, joint presence? How did Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter become Mwangi Hutter? Curator Simon Njami reflects on the subject in 2003, when the duo joined forces:

»You only have to look at the work of Ingrid Mwangi to understand straight away what her concerns are. Actually, I shouldn’t write Ingrid Mwangi, but rather Mwangi Hutter, considering the improbable »twinship« that has resulted from fusion of the- se two separate entities. An addition, rather than a dissolution of one into the other. This »twinship« which I would like to stop and reflect on for a moment, tells us more than it seems to, not so much about the couple but about Mwangi the individual. The decision to appear, through her name, artistically inseparable from that of her accomplice illustrates her journey of some years, one that has taken her through various stages of maturation from a self-centered, singular »I«to the particularly problematic plural »we«. Certainly, one can think of numerous examples of artistic couples, but they are always considered as two separate entities.«2

Mwangi Hutters’ exhibition Circling Around Oneness focuses on unity, a longterm subject of their artistic collaboration as an artist duo in a process to constantly form a unity anew. They see the creation of oneness as a process of getting close, uniting and distancing one- self from one another. A whole, oneness must be created over and over again. Therefore, this is a circular movement, an intense moment of being one is followed by an organic repulse of stepping back; a moment where each person takes a different stance to a subject, or reads the world from a different position than the other, sleeps or even faces their own mortality. The act of leaving the body - as in orgasmic unity, as in death, as in giving birth, as in meditation, as in joint authorship, as in letting black or white be?

»To tease out alternative possibilities for thinking life and human futures in this age of neoliberal individualism, we need to connect in entirely new ways the project
of non-racialism to that of human mutuality. In the last instance, non-racialism is

truly about radical sharing and universal inclusion. It is about humankind ruling in common on behalf of a larger commons, which includes non-humans—this is the proper name for democracy. In this sense, non-racialism is the antithesis of the rule of the market.«3 Achille Mbembe, 2016

Finally the reinvention of oneness – and understanding non-racialism for ourselves - is a grand and at the same time very intimate project of our time. As the 1970s and it's invented, lived, believed and cherished forms of collectivity (collective living, sharing, loving) move away towards a distant horizon, what stays are the many new family constellations the time opened up for. Through globalization the even larger distances between friends, parents and kids, colleagues and partners, create the quest for oneness of people with a culturally different experience, where friends become family. How do we reform the geo-political commons in a moment when the capitalist ideal of growth seems to be misleading immense parts of the world? Could non-racialism or the embodied agency of not just accepting race as a normal, truthful category, be a step to reinvent oneness and tap energy on a social account?

Solvej Helweg Ovesen

Curator of POW, Galerie Wedding – Raum für zeitgenössische Kunst, Berlin, 2016


1 Ernest Ellis Cashmore, Rastaman: The Rastafarian Movement in England, first published in London 1979, reprint: New York 2013.

2 Simon Njami, »Memory in the Skin: The Work of Ingrid Mwangi«, in: Looking Both Ways. Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, catalogue, New York/Gent 2003 (translated from French by Jeanine Herman).

3 Achille Mbembe, Africa in the New Century, published in Doppiozero web magazine 2016

Circling Around Oneness