Bhoomki Believer: Wangechi Mutu

We’re delighted to introduce Bhoomki Believers, our new series featuring our inspiring and trailblazing clients. Every month we’ll sit down with a pioneer, a visionary, or a thought leader and share with you how she is making an impact in her community – locally and often globally. These are women who make us think, push us to live authentically, and affirm that we CAN do it all. With some expected stumbles yes, but with grace, and humor, too.

We can’t think of a better client and friend than Brooklyn-based, Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu to launch our series. Wangechi is widely accepted as one of the most important contemporary artists of her generation. We bet many of you caught her critically acclaimed retrospective – A Fantastic Journey - at the Brooklyn Museum this past winter. It is indeed a minor tragedy if you didn’t. Her work explores and challenges historical and societal representations of African women, turning them upside-down through astonishingly beautiful collages of alien other-worldly creatures who come to life through magazine cut-outs pulled from fashion and pornography magazines. If you don’t know her work, you must. 

Wangechi works out of her BedStuy, Brooklyn home where she has lived for many years. We sat down with her to chat about style, motherhood, Brooklyn eats (yes, one of our favorite subjects at Bhoomki) and Born Free an exciting collaboration with the best known women in fashion to help eradicate the transmission of AIDS from HIV-positive mothers to their children. The Born Free Collection launches this Sunday on Mother’s Day 2014.

How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style's eclectic. I am pretty much all over the place, because I have so many different reasons that I want to look different! So, for example, I have the “girl who is going out”. I need my bling for that, or the shoes I need to wear to dance. I want to wear certain heels, but I want to be able to dance in them. 

These, by the way, my goodness! I have worn these out dancing. These boots that I bought from Bhoomki are comfortable enough for dancing! (Coclico’s Fall 2013 Tia Ebano boots) I have the look that allows me to go from morning to night -- easy, elegant but I can’t be too picky about it if I get a little something from the studio on it. So it is usually black [laughs], very New York. And I layer a lot, so I can take things off when I go into a gallery or a restaurant. 

As a Bhoomki customer and client, how has shopping at Bhoomki changed your approach to fashion? 

What's fun for me about shopping is the experience of going somewhere different, and because of time, I need a shop that has a lot of things in one place. I don't want to go to a big mall necessarily to find everything in one big shopping center. I want to discover little nooks and crannies. That is how I find all the designers I love. I find little stores that look interesting, and I walk in them. Bhoomki has that ability to draw you in because of the design, because of a few things you see in the window and say 'oh, what's that' and you walk in and you realize it is a universe of ideas that actually are wearable, usable, and gift-able. So that's what I love about Bhoomki. And, you don't think it’s a sustainable shop when you are shopping -- it is the shop of the future. When you realize that, I think it's amazing. The designers I love think about where they get their fabric, and how they create their products. They also think about the fact that New York is and was the center of clothes and clothes making, and they are worried and concerned about what's happening here. I can't say that I always dress sustainably, but when I am picking items that will last 10 to 15 years, that's where I go. I go in the direction of something with quality, something that will age well, something that will get more interesting with me as I grow. And Bhoomki has a lot of that.


As a working mother in Brooklyn where do you like to go?

Anywhere they have nice fries. My girls love fries. Chez Oskar is simple, delicious and quick. Flatbush Farmhas great fries. And Saraghina. If I think of anywhere to go, it is usually a place with good fries, good service and they are OK with having kids, which is a lot of places in Brooklyn. 

What are your favorite Brooklyn Restaurants? 

I've got to say Marco's in Prospect Heights-- amazing! Our meals there were ridiculously delicious, and great ambiance. Fabbrica in Williamsburg, unbelievable. We had the best food, and I had a delicious Chianti, which didn't match with anything I was eating.

What is a typical breakfast for you?

You know what it is? I am not a breakfast person. Because I have the babies, I end up feeding them, and then I eat carrots or yogurt. Coffee is a big one for me. I want to drink my breakfast! I used to have a piece of toast every morning, but no longer, now that I am gluten-free. Generally if I am in a good place I will eat a big salad and I am fine to keep going until lunch. 

What do you do to keep fit?

I actually got a trainer, because I am a homebody. The trainer comes over, and we do two rigorous but gentle workouts. At first, it was almost like I didn't know I was working out, and I began thinking, 'Maybe I should try someone else.' And then the night after the first workout, everything was aching! Deadlines will get me into work mode, and my working-out becomes part of the routine, because I have to keep my energy up, and the only way I can keep my energy up is by exercising. It keeps my brain and my body able to get up in the morning and not feel like a zombie. That is what I am doing it primarily for. 

What was the last movie you saw?

Searching for Sugar Man. So good.

Twenty Three top designers including Diane Von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace, Tory Burch, Isabel Marant, Donna Karan, and Stella McCartney, all mothers, worked with Wangechi's art work to create prints for the BORNFREE collection sold exclusively at launching May 11th 2014.

Tell us about Born Free.

Born Free, in its essence, brings awareness and funding to the issue of AIDS transmission from mother to infant. It can be stopped. It just takes one pill. And in the United States it has happened. American women with HIV have birthed kids who don't have AIDS or HIV. In Africa and in countries where this drug is not available, you are finding more of this problem -- kids are born with the disease and it doesn't have to happen. So Born Free is trying to distribute these drugs and spread awareness of the fact that just one pill can actually resolve the issue. 

Born Free is a fantastic term with so many meanings. Born Free of the virus for one, but also they shot the campaign with designers and children in Cape Town, South Africa, where a post-apartheid “Born Free” generation has come of age. 

Born Free had the idea to use a motif from my work as a printed pattern on the designers’ clothes. This has been so amazing for me, and I am so excited they picked me as the featured artist. Most importantly, all proceeds from the sale of these clothes go directly to providing these pills for expectant mothers with HIV. Once we produce the clothing, the money is going to go where it needs to go. We created a very simple grid out of a portrait picture from some older works. I had a set of rules for what I didn't want to have happen to my images, and the designers pretty much all stuck with it. Some designers actually came back, and they created these beautiful fractals, with amazing patterns. I was amazed. I couldn't have thought of that, so why not have them do that! And then a few designers, just did a color change or altered the scale of the pattern -- some of them you can't see because they are so tiny, but so beautifully done. The designers include such names as: Diane Von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace, Tory Burch, Isabel Marant, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney, and the list goes on. 

What do they all have in common? 

They are all mothers. 


Wangechi is wearing the Daisy Dress from Bhoomki’s in-house collection, Coclico’s Tia Ebano boots, and a necklace by K/LLER COLLECTION.

Photos of Wangechi by Jennifer Trahan.

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