- Michael Armitage born 1984
- Oil paint, acrylic paint, graphite and chalk pastel on bark cloth
- Support: 2210 × 4210 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by Harry and Lana David 2022
Michael Armitage’s work The Promised Land 2019 is a large, landscape format painting, over four metres wide, depicting the chaos and confusion of mass protest. Across the surface of this vast painting, figures jostle in crowds, blow horns and throw missiles. Three figures on the right-hand side of the composition are partially enveloped by what appears to be tear gas, opaque clouds of which are pouring forth from a canister on the ground. A figure, who kneels on the ground and whose face is surrounded by the gaseous cloud, swings a slingshot with his raised right hand. He is flanked by two figures who are either running for cover or charging towards a target. On the left of the canvas, a group of figures display a flag bearing the words ‘Messiah Loves: They Can’t Kill Us All’. In the centre of the canvas, a primate sits beneath a palm tree, squatting on an open newspaper or magazine with the words ‘the paradise edict’ visible. The Paradise Edict is the name of another painting by Armitage, also painted in 2019, which depicts Kiwayu Island in Kenya near the Somali boarder, symbolising both paradise and terror.
The Promised Land 2019 reflects on the political demonstrations following the 2017 general elections in Kenya, Armitage’s country of birth, in which at least forty-five people died when crowds of people took to the streets across the country to protest the outcome. Armitage’s work brings together a multiplicity of narratives drawn from historical and current news media with his own recollections and interpretations of contemporary Kenya. He also combines the cultural heritage of Kenya with western art traditions, citing such figures as Francisco de Goya, Paul Gauguin and Edouard Manet as influences alongside East African artists such as Meek Gichugu, Sane Wadu, Edward Tingatinga and Jak Katarikawe. Armitage paints with oil on Lubugo, a bark cloth which is culturally significant for the Baganda people in Uganda and traditionally used as a burial shroud or in ceremonies. With its characteristic ripples, stitches and holes, it gives a textured surface to Armitage’s paintings even when stretched.
The art historian and curator Catherine Lampert has written about how Armitage successfully brings together disparate approaches to painting in his work, while retaining an instability that is essential to his practice: ‘His approach is synthetic but various in terms of composition; sometimes shapes flow, occasionally images are cut and pasted, he experiments with florid colour and sinuous line, and eventually the elements click into place … This instability exists in part because the stories that inform Armitage’s paintings have been filtered by inherently unreliable voices.’
(Catherine Lampert, ‘Michael Armitage: Apparitions and Habitats’, in White Cube 2015, p.29.)
Michael Armitage, exhibition catalogue, White Cube, London 2015.
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