"A Masterpiece of the COVID Era: The Anointed Painting"

Michael Armitage completed this remarkable painting just recently. The artwork, titled "Curfew (Likoni March 27 2020)," is now part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It's quite large, measuring over 8 by 11 feet, and its impact is immediate and captivating from a distance: the vibrant primary colors, the lush green and pink, and the bold, sinuous red lines that seem to burst out of the frame with their dynamic energy.

As you approach the painting, you notice areas of thick, textured oil paint alternating with thin, diluted passages that resemble watercolor. The overall composition is mostly flat, with decorative arrangements of colors. However, there is a sense of place: the meeting of land and sea, the presence of people and palm trees, and a subtle glimpse of what appears to be a Coca-Cola sign on the right side.

As you try to decipher the narrative, you discern scenes of crowds and chaos. In the foreground, a man in a pink shirt appears to be in a state of desperate anguish. Something terrible is happening.

Yet, the sense of spatial depth is constantly disrupted, pushing our eyes back to the surface of the painting. A covered pier or boat is depicted in reverse perspective, making it appear larger in the distance instead of smaller. Its shape is mirrored on the other side of the canvas, and hovering over the scene is a surreal, monumental figure. The outline of a menacing head seems to expel bodies into the sea.

Armitage, born in 1984 and residing in Nairobi and London, created "Curfew" as a response to events that unfolded in 2020. According to MoMA curator Smooth Nzewi, the painting reflects an incident in Mombasa, Kenya, where paramilitary police tear-gassed and injured numerous passengers trying to board a ferry during a curfew imposed by the Kenyan authorities to combat the spread of COVID-19.

In essence, this is a painting about the COVID-19 pandemic. Without explicitly stating it, the artwork explores the unequal struggle between government authorities and ordinary people during a challenging time. The red, sinuous ribbons of paint represent whips cracking through the air, intimidating the crowd. On the right side, a blurred figure in camouflage wields a whip over a man who cowers at his feet, desperately shielding his head with his hand. The man in the pink shirt, attempting to escape a similar fate, crawls out of the painting towards the viewer.

It is undeniably a dramatic and thought-provoking painting, captivating not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for its unsettling depiction of newsworthy events. Armitage is a true artist, evident in his attempt to immerse himself in the scene while simultaneously engaging with the physical process of creating a painting. Many decisions appear to have been made spontaneously. Even before applying paint, Armitage's choice to use bark cloth carries significant implications.

Known as lubugo, this type of cloth is made from the bark of fig trees and is a prominent cultural product of the Buganda, the largest tribe in Uganda. It is used for funerals and ceremonial attire. However, Armitage first encountered it in a Nairobi tourist market in 2010. He became fascinated by how the material had lost its original purpose and had been reduced to being used as a coaster for beer in the evenings, as he mentioned in an interview published on MoMA's website.

This transformation, he explained, mirrors how culture has changed and devalued certain aspects of meaning due to tourism and development, almost parodying its former significance.

Therefore, Armitage's choice of support was not arbitrary; it was not a blank canvas. Lubugo, with its irregularities, holes, and stitching, became an active surface for him. He even rubbed away some of the applied paint to enhance its dynamism.

And so, we witness the enchanting interplay between creation and significance, beauty and truth. Armitage draws inspiration from various sources: news reports, global events, personal observations, his imagination, and art history.

طلحة عبد الكريم
By : طلحة عبد الكريم
مدير و محرر مدونة الموقع التقني.