December 8, 2016 - University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) - Michael Armitage / MATRIX 263
December 8, 2016

University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

Michael Armitage, Diamond Platnumz, 2016. Oil on Lubugo bark cloth, 66 15/16 x 118 1/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and White Cube, London. © Michael Armitage. Photo: White Cube, Ben Westoby.

Michael Armitage / MATRIX 263
December 14, 2016–April 2, 2017

University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2120 Oxford Street
Berkeley, CA 94720
USA

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The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) presents Michael Armitage / MATRIX 263, on view from December 14, 2016 through April 2, 2017. The exhibition features the lush paintings of London- and Nairobi-based artist Michael Armitage, who merges European styles with East African subjects, materials, and perspectives. MATRIX 263 debuts a new body of work in which Armitage reflects on sexuality and gender stereotypes in Kenya.

Armitage trains his attention on the vicissitudes of Kenyan life and its social inequities, political developments, and violent upheavals—all filtered through a dreamlike, expressionistic aesthetic, which is as poignant as it is visionary. His choice of subject matter is inspired by contemporary events in his native Kenya, and he often interweaves imagery he finds in African popular culture, including websites, newspapers, posters, and music videos. His signature medium is oil on Lubugo bark cloth, a fabric traditionally used to make ceremonial garments, which he stretches across a frame; the inherent sutures, tears, and textures of the material frequently inform the compositions of his paintings. 

Blending abstract and figurative styles, Armitage draws upon the modernist language of Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso, yet upends their European approach to non-Western cultures. Armitage’s palette and expressionistic lines, for instance, recall the saturated canvases Gauguin made in Tahiti, which depicted the island and its inhabitants from a decidedly Western perspective. Armitage quotes Gauguin in order to challenge the French painter’s exoticization of the “other.” In his paintings, Kenya and (its extended region) is represented from a perspective that is instead synthetic and cosmopolitan.

The largest work in the exhibition pictures the Tanzanian pop artist Diamond Platnumz, known across Africa for his unique brand of Bongo flava music, and his entourage disembarking from his plane on the tarmac. The lush, blue-green, tropical background seems to undulate on the canvas, with the protagonists—bedecked in bright orange and yellow clothes—contrasting with their paradisiacal environs while also appearing entirely integrated with them. Kampala Suburb (2014), the first painting Armitage made in the series, which addresses sexuality in Kenya, shows the silhouettes of two men kissing—an act that could be punishable by death in Kampala, Uganda. In another painting, Armitage revisits Picasso’s famed Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), but transforms the five central figures into male prostitutes, known as “beach boys,” who comb the beaches of Mombasa looking for wealthy European patrons. Armitage here reverses the historical dialectic between European and African cultures, appropriating Picasso’s iconic modern imagery to tell a story about contemporary life in Kenya.

About the artist
Born in 1984 in Nairobi, Kenya, Michael Armitage lives and works in both Nairobi and London. He graduated in 2007 from the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London and in 2010 from the Royal Academy Schools. He has had solo exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and White Cube (which represents him), and his work was featured in the 13th Lyon Biennial and the Drawing Room Biennial, as well as in group exhibitions at Home, Manchester; Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne; Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York; Yuan Museum, Beijing; Palazzo Capris, Turin; and Beers Contemporary, the South London Gallery, the Drawing Room, Studio 1.1, and Simon Oldfield in London. This is Armitage’s first solo exhibition in the United States. 

Public program
Lecture by Artist Michael Armitage
Saturday, December 10, 1pm
Included with admission
Copresented by the UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice
In this illustrated lecture, artist Michael Armitage provides a preview of a new body of work, premiering in MATRIX 263, that focuses on sexuality and gender stereotypes in Kenya.

Support
Michael Armitage / MATRIX 263 
is organized by Apsara DiQuinzio, curator of modern and contemporary art and Phyllis C. Wattis MATRIX Curator. The MATRIX Program is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis and the continued support of the BAMPFA Trustees. Additional support is provided by White Cube, London.

Press contact: bampfapress [​at​] berkeley.edu

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