Accomplice: Michael Armitage

Michael Armitage

Gallery 1

8 February 2020 – 15 June 2020

Norval Foundation is proud to host Accomplice: Michael Armitage, an exhibition featuring the work of the acclaimed Kenyan artist, on view in Gallery 1 from 8 February to 15 June 2020. This exhibition, the first in Africa, will include a cycle of eight oil paintings and a selection of preparatory ink drawings created by the artist since the 2017 Kenyan elections. In this series, presented for the first time in its entirety, Armitage filters representations of the Kenyan body politic through his own oneiric vision. Observations of contemporary Nairobi, and images culled from social and broadcast media, form the basis of a conversation with Western figurative painting and East African modernism. Accomplice is organised by Owen Martin, Chief Curator and Talia Naicker, Curatorial and Collections Assistant, Norval Foundation.

Armitage, who is based between Nairobi, Kenya, where he grew up, and London, UK, where he studied, has recently gained international critical acclaim. An upcoming solo exhibition at Haus de Kunst (Munich, Germany) and previous solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Sydney, Australia), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Turin, Italy), South London Gallery (London, UK), Turner Contemporary (Margate, UK) and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (San Francisco, USA) are a testament to this recognition by major museums, curators, collectors and galleries worldwide. Armitage has also been included in group exhibitions internationally, including The Elaine Dannheisser Projects Series at The Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA), the 2019 Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy), Prospect.4 (New Orleans, USA) and the 2015 Lyon Biennale (Lyon, France). Additionally, the artist has had numerous commercial exhibitions.

Armitage substitutes linen or canvas with lubugo cloth as a substrate for his paintings. A textile developed by the Baganda of southern Uganda, and designated a piece of oral and intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, lubugo is created by removing a layer of bark from the mutuba tree. This is then beaten with a series of mallets to form a thin, flexible material traditionally used as a burial shroud or for ceremonial clothing. Armitage began experimenting with lubugo after discovering it in a tourist store in Nairobi in 2010. The fissures and irregularities of the stretched lubugo are incorporated into the composition of his paintings, creating a dialogue between the artist’s practice and the conceptual and historical meanings of the cloth, as well as its particular material qualities.

The works included in Accomplice, grounded in the artist’s observations of political rallies in Nairobi prior to the 2017 Kenyan general elections, also demonstrate Armitage’s extensive art historical knowledge. The compositional structures and thematic concerns of the paintings echo key artworks from both Western and African art histories. This is evident in The Fourth Estate (2017), a centrepiece of the exhibition, in which crowds of political supporters of Kenya’s opposition party congregate on and around a large tree in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. The scene clearly locates the work within an East African context, yet parallels exist between Armitage’s work and Francisco Goya’s Ridiculous Folly (Disparate ridiculo) (circa 1819-1824; published 1864). Similarly, The promise of change (2018), in which political leaders are transformed into mannequins, recalls the disfigured bodies in Goya’s print series, The Disasters of War (Los Desastres de la Guerra) (1810-1820; published 1863).

Other works included in this exhibition are Mkokoteni (2019), Pathos and the twilight of the idle (2019), The Accomplice (2019), The Chicken Thief (2019), The Dumb Oracle (2019), The Promise of Change (2018) and The promised land (2019). A selection of preparatory ink drawings will also be presented alongside the paintings.

Accomplice will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication, edited by Sandra Dodson and Owen Martin and designed by Daniel Rautenbach. The publication will feature colour plates of all artworks in the exhibition, visual research materials prepared by the artist and an essay by Owen Martin.

Exhibition Curator:   Owen Martin 

Curatorial and Public Programme Coordinator: Vicky Lekone

Curatorial and Collections Assistant: Talia Naicker

Technical Assistant: Mervyn van Rooyen

Marketing and Communications Coordinator: Luke de Kock

Education Coordinator: Lindsay Hendricks

Graphic Designer: Daniel Rautenbach

Events Coordinator: Talitha Cronje

Patrons Coordinator: Julia Buchanan

Retail Product Coordinator: Vuyolwethu Mbete

and Norval Foundation’s entire team