Chance Mutuku has always been excited about life. His story began in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he was born, but due to the political unrest in the country, his family sought refuge in Uganda. When his father passed away, Mutuku’s mother made the decision to bring the family to Canada. It was here that Mutuku’s already present verve for life blossomed.
His attitude upon arriving at school could only be described as eager.
“I could join any club, try out for any team, I could do anything, nothing was stopping me,” Mutuku said. Chance’s athletic talents were quickly discovered as he joined multiple sports teams, but it was wrestling, which he began in grade nine, where he found his passion. He began competing with three goals, he said: “One, to become a world champion, two, to win the Olympics, and three, to use [his] talents to inspire people”.
Mutuku made the National team three years after his wrestling career began. He was well on his way, it would seem, to achieving his goals. One day, though, at a wrestling camp in Iowa, his wrestling career would grind to a halt. He received a concussion that rendered him unable to compete.
One might wonder why an athlete would be invited to deliver a keynote presentation at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts as part of their monthly wellness series.
“Wrestling is a sport of falling and getting back up so often, the bumps and bruises, you just tape them up and keep going,” said Mutuku. But concussions don’t work like that, and Mutuku knew that. Elaborating on the injury after the presentation he said, “We did what we usually do on a regular basis, stay in the dark, stay away from technology and that whole process.”
Mutuku could deal with the physical pain from his injury, but the effect on his mental health and on his spirit was where he found himself truly hurting. Due to the concussion, it was painful to do new things. He began to focus inward, re-read books and began to create. He found that when he was making art, the pain dissipated.
“Art helped me get through that time,” he said. He found the community was there for him, he found that there was always someone willing to listen to his ideas.
Mutuku’s fascination with sport didn’t disappear when he found himself immersed in the arts, but rather, sport began to influence his work.
He became stuck on the concept that there is an energy that connects all athletes, regardless of their sport. It’s something that we can all recognize but can’t quite put a name to. It’s the thing that makes sport so exciting, that allows athletes to work through pain and trying times, and to devote themselves to sport. I would say it is the same thing that allows us to connect with our favourite sports teams and react so strongly to their wins and losses, as if we ourselves were a part of the team.
It was this concept that led Mutuku to create a series of photographs called “The Spirit of Sport.” He contacted over 50 student-athletes, of whom 30 were available to shoot, and photographed them standing in a position resembling Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”. He then took these photos and formed a series of composite images, which he titled “The Perfect Athlete.”
“I wanted to explore the myth of the perfect athlete. There is no one perfect athlete, but when you bring different bodies together, it creates the perfect athlete,” said Mutuku.
There were hockey players, wrestlers, track athletes and basketball players. Nearly every varsity sport found on campus is somehow represented in Mutuku’s work. The different body types and the different strengths that each sport created in its athletes fascinated Mutuku, resulting in an incredibly moving series of images.
Mutuku keeps himself busy. He is the founder of a design firm called bbbblanc* which provides services related to branding and design. He is content with where he is and fully intending to go where life takes him. “Two years later I’m still making my way better than I was before, but I did my own research.” Mutuku has spoken to several other athletes who helped him to heal.
At the end of the day he says that athletes need to know their worth, and to not limit themselves to strictly athletic endeavours. “It allows you to get through life much more smoothly and appreciate the smaller things.” He believes that everyone’s an artist, and for athletes, that realization may come easier than expected given the ways they use their bodies to create performances.
As for his wrestling career, he’s not too worried.
“A lot of times the athlete will force themselves to go back when they’re not in good condition,” said Mutuku. “You have to know your worth and just go with the flow. And with me right now I was like I’m just gonna take as much time as I feel I need and if I go back to wrestling, cool, if not, then it wasn’t meant to be.”