I had been thinking about the representations of mothers, the usual suspects, until I bumped into Yo Mama, a collage by Wangechi Mutu, the indefatigable Kenyan-born artist. Boom! Here was the fiercest and coolest mother on the planet. I paused, wishing that all of us could go through our trials with our stiletttos on tight and enemies severed under our feet.
In the artist’s imagination, the mother rises again – she is based on a murdered woman, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, mother of Fela Kuti, the brilliant Nigerian musician. She flies, her wide eyes insistent, dislocated, pasted from fashion shot with her beauty, fury and damage as one. Skin as a spangled leotard, she dominates one panel, sets things right with the snake head sprouting flower blood under her shoe dagger, the rest of the panel drenched in possibility of purer, solid pink future. Fela’s music survives the attempt of Nigerian soldiers to crush his complex; his mother, a fatal victim of that invasion, survives as a formidable goddess of nightlife or Eden, mythic, eternal mother.