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Norval Foundation brings rising Venice Biennale star Michael Armitage to South Africa

Michael Armitage explores the complexities of global contemporary society in his exhibition, Accomplice.
Norval Foundation Michael Armitage

At just 35, Kenyan artist Michael Armitage is swiftly emerging as one of the most exciting young voices of contemporary art, heralded as a stand-out artist at the 2019 Venice Biennale. His exhibition at Norval Foundation, ‘Accomplice’, is a series of paintings representing the complex social and political dynamics exploring multiple facets of the human condition,  and takes place in Gallery 1 from 8 February to 15 June 2020.

“We are truly honoured to host Michael Armitage and his incredible work at Norval Foundation,” says Elana Brundyn, director of Norval Foundation. “Particularly, we are proud that this is his first major solo exhibition in a public institution on his home continent, Africa. Having his work in Cape Town so very soon after his global success at Venice Biennale in 2019 and his New York MOMA exhibition, further illustrates that Cape Town is a cultural hub that is on par with some of the very best in the world.”

Norval Foundation Michael Armitage
The Fourth Estate 2017

Created over the past two years, his vivid depiction of inequality and political uncertainty are drawn from his visits to rallies in the run-up to Kenya’s 2017 elections, combined with his own impressions, memories and discourses. Observations of contemporary Nairobi and images culled from social and broadcast media form the basis of paintings that are in conversation with Western figurative painting and East African modernism.

Norval Foundation Michael Armitage
The promised land 2019

Armitage, who is based between Nairobi, Kenya, where he grew up, and London, UK, where he studied, has recently gained international critical acclaim by major museums, curators, collectors and galleries. Testament to this is an upcoming solo exhibition at Haus de Kunst (Munich, Germany) and a myriad of recent solo exhibitions worldwide.

Armitage substitutes linen or canvas with Lubugo cloth as the ground for all the paintings in Accomplice. 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 thin layer of bark from the mutuba tree. This is then beaten with a series of mallets to form a thin, flexible material that is traditionally used as a burial shroud or for ceremonial clothing. Yet Armitage adopted this as canvas after discovering it in a tourist store in Nairobi in 2010. The fissures and irregularities that are common to Lubugo are incorporated into the composition of his paintings, putting the artist’s practice in dialogue with the conceptual and historical meanings of the cloth, as well as its particular material qualities.

Norval Foundation Michael Armitage
Left: The Chicken Thief 2019 | Right: The Dumb Oracle 2019

“Without doubt, Michael is a brilliant painter, he reminds us why art is so powerful. His work is dreamlike, colourful, mysterious, and exotic – yet not without darkness, not without painful truths,” says Brundyn, “But like all pain, it’s made easier to deal with by the means with which he engages us. I hope the public will welcome this rising star that has captured the world’s imagination.”


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