Michael Armitage

Mangroves Dip, 2015

Oil paint on lubugo bark cloth

221 × 170.2 cm


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Artwork
Description

Armitage frequently takes inspiration from his local natural environment. In ‘Mangrove Dips’, the artist considers the story of a man and a woman near the coast in Kenya. It features a black man supporting the body of a white woman while he dips her into a body of water. As she is being dipped, she is brought into a sexually euphoric state. The amorphous shapes surrounding them merge the water, the bodies and the mangroves, mimicking this euphoria into an experience only attainable through the combination of all these components.

In the 1990s, it was widely known that Scandinavian women would travel to Kenya in search for companionship. There was a growth in sex tourism and what resulted in a boom of mixed-race children. As a man of mixed-race, Armitage used this notion and painting as a means to explore his own identity.

The allure of the coast draws the dominant portion of sex tourism to that region of Kenya. Because mangroves are traditionally from the coast, a clear association has developed between the iconography of mangroves and sex tourism.

The amorphous quality in ‘Mangroves Dip’ is further emphasized through Armitage’s distinct style. He uses lubugo bark cloth, a Ugandan material, and stretches the treated bark. The arduous process the cloth undergoes – from bark to textile – often leaves it with holes and coarse indentations. This uneven surface manipulates the manner in which the Armitage’s oil paint is applied and dries. The paint moves with the bark, it can influence it to crack or leave a whitewashed effect.

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