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After researching the issue, I found that there have been discussions highlighting [a] double-standard, where the word 'immigrant' or 'refugee' is deployed to non-whites who live abroad while the word 'ex-pat' is exclusively reserved as a qualifier for white Western migrants. Because these words are inherently interchangeable, reclaiming and propagating its use in relation to the African migrant became the goal of the [Ascendants] series.

Wangari Mathenge, in Creative Boom, April 29, 2020
Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants XIV (She is Here), 2021
Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants XIV (She is Here), 2021. Oil on canvas, 85 × 64 inches (215.9 × 162.56 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Museum purchase with funds provided by Colleen and Javier Baz, 2022.5.1. © Wangari Mathenge, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.

Relocation, acculturation, displacement and specifically how these concepts relate to the diasporic African experience are central to the work of Kenyan-born, Chicago-based artist Wengari Mathenge.

The Ascendants XIV (She is Here) is part of an ongoing series in which the artist looks toward intimate snapshots within the home, where figures are surrounded by everyday objects that act as markers of time, location and culture.

In these works, Mathenge is less interested in capturing individual likenesses and instead attempting to render the complexity of identity and aspects of life for Africans living abroad in large interior scenes.

As a child, Mathenge moved from Nairobi to London with her family after her father began working for the Commonwealth Secretariat, instilling in her an innate sense of difference in her adopted country.

As a result of this formative experience, Mathenge is particularly interested in an African life beyond colonialism and explores it through images of her familial history.

In addition, the gallery below showcases several works from the collection that explore similar themes to Mathenge’s work.


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