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Wangari Mathenge Was a Lawyer. Now, She’s Making Her U.S. Solo Debut at Roberts Projects

By Melissa Smith

The painter left a lucrative career as an attorney to become an artist. Four years later, ahead of the opening “Tidal Wave of Colour,” she has no regrets.

This is Turning Points, CULTURED’s column dedicated to big life choices, bucket list moments, career shifts, and forks in the road. This week, attorney-turned-painter Wangari Mathenge reflects on her decision to leave the law and set her sights on the canvas.

It wasn’t that long ago that Wangari Mathenge was a practicing attorney. When she quit her job and started considering what to do next, two choices presented themselves: she could either join the family business in Kenya, or finally take her painting “seriously.” The latter, to Mathenge, meant pursuing art as a full-blown career. In 2019, Mathenge enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, completing her MFA in 2021.

On Apr. 22, she will make her U.S. solo debut with “Tidal Wave of Colour,” an exhibition of nine lush and captivating paintings, at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. The show's title takes inspiration from Malcolm X and the decolonization movements that swept Africa, Latin America, and Asia in the wake of World War ll. Here is Mathenge's account of her upcoming exhibition, the moment she realized she was no longer a lawyer, and her resistance to being packaged by the art world.