Arts Foundation / Archive

Michael Armitage
(b. 1963)

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Michael Armitage’s compelling and complex paintings are the confluence of Western art history and East African iconography. This unique syncretism lends his paintings their unsettling appeal as scenes at once real and imaginary, in turns sinister and celebratory. In content, however, his concerns are contemporary. Reimagining events reported in the national news as oneiric apparitions, Armitage invites magical thinking into the Kenyan body politic. With such ranging references as Post-Impressionist paintings, local mythology and current events, Armitage’s “ hybrid vision,” as the critic Thomas Micchelli writes, “affirms the porousness of ethnocultural borders.” So too does the artist’s choice of substrate. Armitage paints in oil on lubugo, a Ugandan cloth made from mutuba tree bark, boiled, pounded and worked like leather. The sheets are then stitched together to make traditional funeral shrouds. Stretched over wooden frames, the cloth’s coarse and uneven finish, its tears and textures, lend a distinct roughness to Armitage’s paintings. The organic materiality of lubugo disrupts the painting’s surface, but far from reducing the image, each imperfection becomes instead an insistent reminder of the work’s status as hybrid; the uneven plane on which European and African visual histories collide.

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