Michael Armitage, a Kenyan-born artist who works between Nairobi and London, is considered an ‘exciting new force in painting’, as he draws his inspiration from the likes of Titian, Goya, Manet and Gauguin to visually explore East African culture and folklore.
His paintings explore sexuality, civil unrest, politics and history through their vibrant colours, dreamlike nature and perspectives which are thought provoking in their visual narratives. The exhibition brings together 15 of Armitage’s large-scale paintings from the past six years, just over 10 years after Armitage graduated from the Royal Academy Schools. The work displayed explores East African landscapes, society, and politics.
In combination with his work, Armitage has chosen six East African contemporary artists Meek Gichugu, Jak Katarikawe, Theresa Musoke, Asaph Ng’ethe Macua, Elimo Njau and Sane Wadu, to display a selection of their work alongside his in the exhibition. They were chosen for the part they have played in shaping figurative painting in Kenya and influenced Armitage and his own artistic development.
The work is made using the culturally important material, lubago bark cloth, which is made from tree bark of the Natal fig tree by the Baganda people in Uganda. Many of the large-scale works draw on contemporary events and then combine them with Western painting motifs. Some highlights from the exhibition include: The Chicken Thief, The Paradise Edict, and the Leopard Print Seducer. Armitage’s studies skilfully examine the European view of the ‘other’ and how this is exoticized. The exhibit will begin with a group of animal paintings, depicting monkeys, giraffes, leopards and snakes, which start to become symbolic of human characteristics, as he aims to expose the tense and exotic view of Africa. Gradually the exhibition turns to the landscape and people to add a political commentary to the symbolism Armitage uses.
The ‘Paradise Edict’ will be Armitage’s first major presentation in a museum setting.
"No colonial fantasist ever painted Africa in more intoxicating colours than Armitage does."
"The limited range of colours is another problem the grass, for instance, is always bright emerald."
"By overlaying these disparate narratives, Armitage aims to create a portrait of the country that is more complex and more realistic."
"He is a magic realist fabulist among painters and the choice to share his big moment clearly reflects his own vision of what he is doing and where he comes from."