Michael Armitage

Wait, 2015

Oil paint on lubugo bark cloth

170.2 × 221 cm


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Artwork
Description

In Armitage’s ‘Wait’, an urban scene of two figures facing a wall is depicted. The wall features several posters and adverts. Four of the main posters in the painting refer to specific places in Nairobi, another two at the top to Kinshasa and the last to a prostitute. Common in Armitage’s practice is to take inspiration from contemporary media outlets. By hoarding different feeds of information, Armitage explores relations between urban and rural, human and animal, politics and local mythologies, and the colonial and modern vernaculars that inhibit Eastern African countries.

The founding inspiration behind this painting stems from an image that was taken on the streets in a village in southern Somalia. After the Nairobi attacks, there was an immense rounding up of young Somali men in seek of Al Shabaab fighters. The authorities filled stadiums with boys for days, most were let go. An element in the photograph that struck Armitage was the ease at which a man stood despite his imminent execution. This is recreated in the contraposto pose of the man in the foreground, setting the movement for the rest of the painting. The second figure, referring to the presence of a ghost, alludes to the potential fate of another, to be the next man up for execution.

Stylistically, ‘Wait’ is tremendously distinctive of Armitage. His strong palette of colours and his tentative layers manipulate the viewer’s gaze through a string of comparative narratives across the piece. This is further enhanced by the consrtposto pose of the man in the right. Painted on lubugo – a cloth created by days of beating the bark – adds an additional depth to his technique and manipulates how the paint sets.

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