First Friday Artist: Karen Wangare Leonard

On Friday, July 7th from 5:00pm-7:00pm, we are thrilled to host a First Fridays Gallery Opening at The Depot featuring artist Karen Wangare Leonard! Karen is a talented artist who specializes in mixed media, poetry, and writing. Join us to view her powerful exhibition entitled “How to Live With it” and to enjoy food, refreshments, and community. RSVP for this event on Facebook here.

Below see the statement on accessibility of the event, and Karen shares more about her work and journey as an artist.

Accessibility statement and Content Forecast: 

This gallery showing has themes that may be triggering or uncomfortable to folks. Self harm and violence are a continual theme. You are empowered to take care of yourselves gently as you engage with this work.

When in the gallery and gathering areas, masks are preferred. We want to do our part to protect everyone in the vicinity that are sensitive to the on-going COVID pandemic. Masks will be provided at the door if you do not have any.

There are single person bathrooms available for any gender to use despite the labeled signs on the doors.

This building was previously restored from a fire. The elevator shaft is currently not functioning and there is an absence of ramps in the space. Because the show is on the 2nd floor, this may pose an issue for those who have mobility needs. We are aware of this need and we apologize greatly if this changes your ability to attend.

Portrait of artist Karen Wangare Leonard. She is posed in a bright yellow jacket with blue sunglasses in front of green leaves on a bush.


Karen Wangare Leonard is a young, disabled contemporary mixed media artist born in Kenya. Now currently living in perpetual migration, Leonard draws from a deep well of experiences to explore identity and storytelling through her work. In 2017 she suffered a serious arm injury that left her dominant arm disabled, forcing her to work with her other arm until that arm also became disabled from overuse. Determined to keep creating, Leonard’s style adapted to heavily utilizing her feet and mouth to create, abstracting her work and taking after background in visual journaling. She says, “these days I do not use an eraser on my canvas as much as I used to. I am more concerned with making what I can with what I’ve done rather than attempting to correct the past. Art, as it pertains to life, is full of yesterdays. Every line stays. What a terrifyingly incredible thought. How can I face each action in acceptance and opportunity?”

Mixed media painted self portrait of artist Karen Wangare Leonard. Painted on a mirror with fabric draped around the edges.

“How to Live With it” artist statement:

At its core, this is a story about a body that has been maimed beyond complete repair but remains insistent on creating by any means necessary. This is my story and my disabled body figuring out what happened to us, what we did to ourselves, and how we are meant to heal. In 2017 during a mental health crisis I intentionally harmed myself and unintentionally permanently disabled myself, losing the use of my dominant arm. My art teacher gave me a choice: drop AP Art Studio or ‘embrace the shake’ and create with my other arm. She said no one would blame me if I left the class but I knew I wasn’t finished making art. So I stayed. I cultivated an abstract contemporary style that incorporated mixed media and drew from a visual journaling background. Shortly after finishing the school year I gained an overuse injury in my left hand, making both my hands disabled and threatening my ability to make art.

This gallery is my first large public facing work since I started experimenting with utilizing my feet and mouth to create my pieces. I am discovering that working larger is easier on my body than smaller. And I am learning to let go of what my art used to look like in order to make space for what I can do now. Following in the inspiration of Phil Hansen, I embraced my disabilities and cultivated a practice of accepting them instead of fighting against them. Influenced by Wangechi Mutu, Kara Walker, and Akwaeke Emezi, my art primarily focuses on exploring identity through portraiture and storytelling. I understand art only depicts fragments in time and the artist gets to pick what is seen and what is left out but I also know that each fragment is vital in the grand scheme of things. Everything leads us to now.

This is a body that I am finally bringing to the light. The canvas is a welcoming space on which to put my life. A life which I am committed to staying soft in by creating art as opposed to being constricted. I want people to wrestle and engage with themselves as they encounter this resemblance of embodiment. I don’t want to be praised for “overcoming my disability.” I didn’t overcome anything but rather I live with it daily. After years of embarrassment, I’m choosing to take a hammer to the shield of shame that often results from disabilities born of self-harm. While I hope you all are not able to fully understand what this art means, for those who do, this is for us. Lastly, I want everyone to know that I had a life before this disability and I still have a life now that I’m learning to love.

You are invited in. Welcome.

Stay as long as you want. Leave as freely as you must.

See more of Karen’s work on these platforms:


Instagram: @karenwangareleonard

Bio site featuring numerous links:

This event is free and open to everyoneSnacks and refreshments will be served and we look forward to seeing you there! See the event page and RSVP here.

Each month we host a new artist in our building’s 2nd floor gallery at the Chesapeake Western Depot at 141 W. Bruce St. (second floor entrance is on Chesapeake). Artwork will remain on exhibit through the month. Come view the show anytime and get a tour the Depot! We will have food and drink available!

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