INTERVIEW: IVY MUTUKU BY OLIVIA POLONI
When does one decide to become an artist? At what point does that career choice cross one’s mind as a possibility? Where does one find a creative network to foster this idea?
For the last decade, Wyndham Art Gallery has been a platform for the exhibition of art at all stages of an artist’s career but has especially played a major supporting role in championing the creative minds of those just beginning their journey within the arts. By creating an open-house culture fostered by curators megan evans and Maree Clarke, during her tenure (2015–19), the gallery has provided professional development, mentorship, career guidance and an environment of connecting creatives to enable long-lasting and meaningful relationships and outcomes.
Kenyan Australian Ivy Mutuku, a Wyndham-based local filmmaker and photographer, is one of those artists whose ideas around a career in the arts was influenced by the supportive environment of the gallery. Her practice is centred around Black representation, and celebrating Black vulnerability and intimacy in photographic portraiture and film. In the past decade of Wyndham Art Gallery programming, Ivy’s work has been exhibited in the Wyndham Art Prize 2020, NEW 2019 and FUTURISM 2020.
OLIVIA POLONI: What is your relationship with Wyndham Art Gallery? Is it a space that fostered your creative practice at the beginning of your career?
IVY MUTUKU: My first introduction to Wyndham Art Gallery was through my friend wāni toaishara, who had won the Wyndham Art Prize some years ago . From then I was introduced to megan evans, who was very supportive of my work and encouraged me to continue pursuing it! Through megan and wāni’s confidence in me, they introduced me to the world of arts and, still to this day, constantly remind me that my voice and talents are valid. When I think about Wyndham Art Gallery, I’m reminded of the first place I ever displayed my work publicly, proudly and confidently.
You have been involved in several projects with the gallery: the Wyndham Art Prize, FUTURISM and NEW. Is there a highlight or special moment that stands out?
My highlight is probably the NEW exhibition where I displayed my black-and-white portrait series Deep Black. It was the first time my portraits were printed on high-quality paper and displayed so beautifully. To be able to physically hold the images was incredible, but also having my friends and family come out and support my work was amazing.
Creating connections is important to the gallery. Have you made significant connections with artists and curators through your experiences, and have these connections expanded beyond the gallery?
Yes! I think the highlight was meeting megan evans. She doesn’t know this, but she was the first woman in the arts ever to see substance in my work. She embraced me so fervently the first time that I met her. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn so much from her.
As a local, what role do you think a space such as the Wyndham Art Gallery plays for the local creative community?
Wyndham Art Gallery kicked off my career. It’s a big part of my foundation and I love that it happened in the area where I grew up in. Wyndham Art Gallery provides opportunities for smaller upcoming artists, which is why its purpose is so vital for the local creative community.
How is representation and providing a safe space important in a gallery context, which can be quite intimidating and steeped in colonial narratives? And what is your experience of this within the context of Wyndham Art Gallery?
I think it is important to have representation and [create] a safe space because it evokes perspective and vulnerability and, most importantly, honesty – particularly throughout history where for ethnic communities a lot of our work was fizzled through a white lens, and perspective, vulnerability and honesty were non-existent. At Wyndham Art Gallery I was invited to take part in exhibitions most of the time. The control and outcome [of the work] was more or less on my terms; I was encouraged to create anything I wanted within the theme; and I felt supported throughout. The space provided me allowed for all [of these] three important factors [to co-exist], which I’m incredibly grateful for.