Mon 9 Oct 2023 to Sat 4 Nov 2023
Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-6pm
Artist: Wangari Mathenge
Pippy Houldsworth Gallery presents Wangari Mathenge’s second solo exhibition in London, comprising paintings and a room-size installation from her new series, A Day of Rest.
Prompted by an increase in media depictions of the plight of domestic workers in Kenya, Mathenge conceived of this body of work as a socially engaged project aimed at shifting the narrative around a workforce of over two million people across the country. Mathenge has formerly explored themes of relocation and displacement in her Ascendants series (2020-2021), which interrogated the language of global migration. In A Day of Rest, she returns to the issue, this time taking a closer look at domestic migration within Kenya, and in particular the narratives of young women who leave rural communities for the city in search of work.
In a series of monumental paintings depicting seven domestic workers, Mathenge gives visibility to a marginalised group often dehumanised in media representations. In these multifaceted portraits, Mathenge’s sitters take control of their own stories, positing a refusal to be defined by adversity and, instead, projecting their varied ambitions. Arranged variously in tableaux of three or on their own, each woman poses with an object of personal importance. In this way, Mathenge compels us to consider each of these seven women as individuals, challenging our attitudes, as well as their own, to their profession.
A Day of Rest began in the spring of 2022. Mathenge invited twenty female domestic workers to her Nairobi studio through a non-governmental organisation that empowers women working in the private sphere. As part of a series of full-day workshops, participants spent time relaxing and exchanging stories, engaging collaboratively with one another and the artist. Mathenge joined them in varied discussions that included subjects such as spirituality, finances, education, feminism, and the need for rest and reflection. At Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, works will be presented alongside a replica of Mathenge’s studio as it was set up during the first phase of the project for her sitters’ comfort.
Domestic workers in Kenya are legally entitled to the same basic labour rights as any other worker – paid holiday, sick and maternity leave, health care coverage and a safe workplace, but in practice these legal protections are rarely enforced, and workers find themselves at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Many domestic staff are retained informally and have little recourse to such laws, meaning there is scant job or wage security, an expectation to commit to long hours and to carry out a range of household tasks that may be outside of a person’s usual remit. Since the domestic workforce is overwhelmingly made up of women, many have the additional care burden of family. A Day of Rest emerged out of Mathenge’s desire to raise awareness of these issues and to advocate for change.
Wangari Mathenge lives and works between London and Chicago, IL. She holds degrees from Howard University and Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC. In the Summer of 2021, Mathenge completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In 2022, she was highlighted in the Artsy Vanguard as one of the most promising artists working today. Mathenge’s solo exhibitions include Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA (2023; 2019); Monica de Cardenas, Milan (2021); Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2021); and The Sacristy Gallery, Chicago, IL (2021). Mathenge has also recently been featured in group exhibitions including The Power of Portraiture, Nasher Museum of Art, NC (2022); Black American Portraits, LACMA, Los Angeles, CA (2022-23); Stretching the Body , Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2021-22); Gaabo Motho, Sakhile&Me, Frankfurt (2021); and Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection, El Espacio 23, Miami (2020-21). Mathenge’s work has been featured in publications including Financial Times, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Los Angeles Times, Culture Type and Creative Boom. Collections include Dallas Museum of Art, TX; Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Jorge M. Peréz Collection, Miami, FL; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL; Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN; Kistefos Museum, Oslo; Elie Khouri Art Foundation, Dubai; and Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.