Michael Armitage

Clarinet, 2015

Oil paint on lubugo bark cloth

221 × 170.2 cm


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Artwork
Description

Armitage interlaces narratives produced by the media, along with cultural idioms and happenings to reflect on different urbanities. In ‘Clarinet’, Armitage brings forth the relationship between a man and his wife in Kenya. In the foreground, a man is depicted waving his arms and in the background, a woman is partially crouching, as if cautious of his behaviour.

Armitage came across a story in the local newspaper about men that were repeatedly attacked by their wives. This led him to begin looking up footage on YouTube of women beating men, something he found amusing. The reversal of the obvious framework of domestic abuse was confrontational and baffled him. In these videos, Armitage could see that the women often did not have the strength to kill their husband, while if the roles were reversed, the level of violence would be heightened and the outcome more horrendous. In this painting, the artist explores his own cultural constructs. In the Kikuyu tribe, the tribe Armitage originates from, men would be ostracised if it were known that their wives beat them. Nevertheless, there is a lot of local history emphasising the strength of women. This is a theme that Armitage continues to explore in a larger series ‘Clarinet’.

This painting is exemplary of the amorphous nature of Armitage’s work. Although the range of the colour palette is extensive, the hues are reflective of the essence of Kenya. Furthermore, Armitage paints oil onto lubugo bark cloth, a Ugandan practice where a fabric is generated by days of strenuous beating. The process leaves every piece of cloth unique, with coarse indentations and holes. This manipulates the paint and the manner in which light interacts with the work.

About
the artist

Michael Armitage (b. 1984) is a Kenyan born artist currently living between Nairobi and London. The artist’s predominant concerns are the social and political issues facing our contemporary global society. By weaving multiple narratives, drawn from the media and his native country's mythologies, Armitage strives to emphasise the universal social problems that many choose to deny. He has a firm belief that art is an agent of social change and through his captivating figurative style, he compels the viewer to take a deeper look at the content his art addresses. Armitage questions the supposed passivity of watching news media: a spectator is already complicit and should ponder their own responsibility towards the reported events.

In his paintings, Armitage intertwines narratives drawn from his memories, and discourses from both Western and East African vantage points. Such approach allows him to raise the discussion of the impact of oppressive narratives from the perspective of either region.

Michael Armitage combines his artistic training in London, (BA from Slade School of Art in 2007, MA Royal Academy, London 2010) with traditional East African hues, materials and techniques. He paints on lubugo bark cloth, a fabric resulting from a laborious process of beating the bark for several days, and eventually stretching it. The entire process leaves the material taut and often with holes and coarse depressions. The atypical surface of the cloth manipulates the manner in which the oil paint is applied and dries, ultimately adding to Armitage’s distinctive amorphous shapes. The Ugandan material is ridden with social and political meaning. It was traditionally used as a burial garment but has contemporarily been commoditised, being sold in East African markets as adapted placemats, baskets and other touristic knickknacks.


Armitage intertwines narratives drawn from his memories, and discourses from both Western and East African vantage points. Such approach allows him to raise the discussion of the impact of oppressive narratives from the perspective of either region. The Ugandan material is ridden with social and political meaning. It was traditionally used as a burial garment but has contemporarily been commoditised, being sold in East African markets as adapted placemats, baskets and other touristic knickknacks.


Michael Armitage
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

November 11th, 2015 until
January 25th, 2016
Curated by Eugenio Re Rebaudengo