Wangari Mathenge’s practice celebrates the multiplicity of African identity and culture, examining the creation and dissemination of ideas, objects and social practice. Her figurative compositions explore hybridity across the continent and diaspora, at times reflecting on personal experience of movement between the two. In particular, the visibility and perspective of black women is integral to her work. Within her paintings individuals are depicted at leisure in domestic environments, surrounded by markers of personal significance, from literature to textiles and family history. By drawing on this wide range of references, Mathenge explores her relationship to the broader narratives that frame her work, questioning her own position as an artist. Bold colours, vibrant patterns and soft, expressive brushstrokes enhance the mood embodied by each figure, inviting connection and introspection.
The Expats and The Ascendants are two series that form the core of her practice. The Expats responds to the culturally accepted perception of 'expats' as a group distinct from 'immigrants', due to socio-economic, political or racialised status. Mathenge draws on her family's experience of living in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, where her father worked on assignment to the Commonwealth Secretariat, to challenge this double standard. The Ascendants, again a very personal series, draws on these ideas to examine what it means to live in relationship to traditional African culture and the legacy of colonialism, and how these histories interact in the present.