»Building Skin«

© Sjur Einen Sævik

Sandra Mujinga is one of four nominees for the Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst this year. We spoke to her about the role of the human figure in her work, questions of camouflage and opacity and how to think the body through music. Oh, wait—and dinosaurs, too!

What’s the role of the human figure and its representation in your work? 

I am very much drawn to the question of when one is granted their humanity. That includes thinking about what it means to be a recipient of ›human rights‹ as well as placing this question in the historical context of colonialism. So, when is someone ›a human‹? Is it when you look human? Or what are the markers for being human? These are the things I’m looking at. The category of humanity also comes with a lot of violence. Just look at the co-existence of humans with non-humans. I am interested in the strategies that animals use to survive this violence, for instance how mammals are increasingly becoming nocturnal to avoid humans. So, the human figure always exists in some sort of conflict. Another aspect, finally, that’s very important to my work, is the science-fiction perspective—speculating the human, so to say, and imagining how the human body might change within different conditions in the future.

»When is someone ›a human‹? Is it when you look human? What are the markers for being human?«

Strategies of camouflage, opacity, or invisibility often seem to feature in your work. Could you elaborate a bit on your use of such strategies?

The starting point here is my work with textiles and the translation of textiles into skin—as something that appears to the world. ›Building skin‹ in that sense is an important element in my work, an important part of building characters and worldbuilding, a ›worlding‹ strategy. When it comes to camouflage, I was always drawn to the fact that military camouflage is very much made for the human eye only—and how this evolves currently having to be adapted to drone vision. Appearance is always related to gaze. It only exists within that relation. This equation is central to my work. For example, if you look at the animal world—what seems to be very flashy and conspicuous to the human eye might also work as camouflage for a different gaze. Another thing that drew me to questions of camouflage was the emergence of anti-surveillance makeup in around 2014. Back then, people started painting different shapes in their face—so that cameras wouldn’t be able to read and identify them. It’s almost like coding your face. Even with my sculptures I am always drawn to the aspect of constant change. Maybe this comes from my performance background. And I guess that’s also what draws me to the agency of fabric as such—its shapeshifting quality.

Sandra Mujinga, Ghosting, 2019, Installationsansicht Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen © Sandra Mujinga / Croy Nielsen, Vienna, The Approach, London / David Stjernholm

»Appearance is always related to the gaze. It’s only existing within that relation.«

Is there a specific concept of time you are working with? 

Music plays a big role in my work. My very sense of time and its experience stems from my work with music. Often in my work, the visual material is rather repetitive while the sounds provide some sort of climax. For me, music is a way to mark time, it’s a time travelling tool of sorts. I’m also interested in the techniques of layering that sound provides. This is something that influenced my visual work a great deal. I always thought about things not being fully or clearly visible through sound. Something like an underlying bass that’s just there and then suddenly reveals itself or shapeshifts in a different way. What would it mean to think of a body this way? What would such a body look like?


What are you planning for your show at the Preis der Nationalgalerie in Berlin this autumn? 

Let’s say, it will be continuation of my world-building practices. And there are going to be new sculptures. I’m interested in the back and forth of building-up and falling apart right now, of assembling and decaying. In that regard, I am very much drawn to dinosaur fossils at the moment. Wait, dinosaurs—that sounds really weird! (laughs)

Preis der Nationalgalerie 2021. Lamin Fofana. Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff. Sandra Mujinga. Sung Tieu
16 SEP 2021—27 FEB 2022
Preview as part of Berlin Art Week on 15 SEP from 8pm with pre-booked time slot ticket.