Projects 110: Michael Armitage
Projects 110: Michael Armitage, the first U.S. solo museum exhibition by Michael Armitage, presents a group of eight paintings that, in the artist’s words, explore “parallel cultural histories.” These works are presented in the Museum of Modern Art’s new building this October, as part of The Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA, and MoMA PS1’s multiyear partnership built on the institutions’ existing affiliations and shared values. Nairobi-born Armitage received his BFA and MFA in London, at Slade School of Art and Royal Academy of Arts, respectively. Today, the artist travels between the two cities and cites each as core to his creative practice.
This grouping of work interrogates contemporary visual culture in timely dialogue with art history and the legacy of Modernism as it veers toward—and breaks from—the West. Alongside a Modernist influence, Armitage draws inspiration from East African artists Meek Gichugu, Chelenge, and Jak Katarikawe. As such, he celebrates a living lineage of narrative, abstraction, and color, with one eye toward the future and another looking to the past in homage to the rich and complicated history of painting.
An intervention within the painterly canon, Armitage employs lubugo bark cloth in lieu of canvas as a foundation for his paintings. In 2010 the artist first encountered the Ugandan fabric in a Nairobi tourist market. The material creates the irregular fissures found across these works, which incite a rich conversation between the artist and his study of landscape and the body. Delicate in nature, the cloth is subject to such irregularities, ripping and tearing as the artist paints across it. These breaks in the simultaneously skin-like and topographic surface become part of the texture and form of each painting.
Nairobi-born Armitage received his BFA and MFA in London, at Slade School of Art and Royal Academy of Arts, respectively. Today, the artist travels between the two cities and cites each as core to his creative practice.
The scenes in The Promised Land and The promise of change were inspired by political rallies held before the 2017 general elections in Kenya. While both works depict these collective gatherings at the height of preelection fervor, The Promised Land places the viewer within the crowd, while The promise of change bears witness from on the stage.
In Nyali Beach Boys (2015), the artist puts forth a proposition that pushes back against the gendered “male gaze” that stretches across art history in works such as Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1865). The painting shows male Kenyan sex workers, known to locals as “beach boys” for their combing of East African beaches for affluent, European female tourists.
Across his compositions, Armitage oscillates between real and surreal, celebratory, and sinister. He merges memories of Kenya with media depictions of East Africa, a consciousness traversing lines of sociopolitical unrest. In these works, the artist considers how political reportage, African bodies, and the body politic are traded as capital, highlighting the fraught relationship between Africa and the West on a global stage.
Projects 110: Michael Armitage is organized by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, with Legacy Russell, Associate Curator, Exhibitions. The exhibition will be on starting October 21, 2019, through January 20, 2020, at The Museum of Modern Art as part of a multiyear partnership between The Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA, and MoMA PS1. Building on the institutions’ existing affiliations and shared values, this wide-ranging collaboration encompasses exhibitions and programming at both The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 and takes place during the construction of the Studio Museum’s new facility.