Michael Armitage

Confrontation in Lalibella, 2015

Oil paint on lubugo bark cloth

195.6 × 149.9 cm


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Artwork
Description

Characteristic of Michael Armitage’s work, ‘Confrontation in Lalibella’ weaves multiple mythical and contemporary narratives together. The founding narrative of this painting is based on a small shop on the side of the road that Armitage had drawn at the onset this piece. Sitting on the curb, there is a man in a hooded sweater reading a piece of paper with a separate piece of paper on his lap. The man depicted in this painting threatened Armitage during his visit to Lalibella, a town in Northern Ethiopia. He was under the impression that the artist was aiming to copy the layout of his kiosk when he was just sketching the storefront scene.

‘Confrontation in Lalibella’ exposes the dream-state in which people meander around, not entirely conscious of their surroundings and the vulnerability one exposes oneself to these conditions. Lalibella is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, a centre of pilgrimage, and since its classification as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, it is also developing into a bustling tourist site. The flamingo in the painting, an iconic association to Ethiopia, weaves the cliché narrative coupled to Africa of exoticism and exploration.

The figurative layers and various transparencies in hues are distinctive to Michael Armitage’s artistic process and style. The colour palette is rich yet toned to reflect Armitage’s interpretation of colours in Eastern Africa. The oil paint is applied to lubugo bark cloth. Traditionally a Ugandan burial garment, the bark undergoes several days of beating until it is malleable enough to be adapted into a canvas-like material. The process renders the cloth to various imperfections; it is uneven on the surface, left with coarse bristles and holes. The nature of the cloth manipulates the manner in which the oil paint settles onto the surface, sometimes cracking and other times accentuating the assorted levels of transparency.

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