A major painting by Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage (b. 1984) entitled Nasema Nawe (2016) has been donated to the National Galleries of Scotland
by collectors Harry and Lana David, in memory of Nicola David-Pinedo. This acquisition is not only the first work by the artist to enter Scotlands national art collection, but the very first Michael Armitage painting to be acquired by a public collection anywhere in the UK.
Visitors can currently view Nasema Nawe at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA) as part of the second instalment of NOW, the Galleries dynamic series of contemporary art exhibitions. The display, heralded recently as a, compelling and thoughtful show by The Scotsman, runs until 18 February 2018.
Michael Armitage, who has received critical acclaim for his recent solo exhibition at the South London Gallery, uses a rich, seductive palette to explore stories drawn from a range of sources, including news channels, internet gossip and his own experience of living and working in East Africa. His works often present commentary on the social structures, turbulent politics, social inequalities and violence in Kenya. Armitage frequently draws on the composition of paintings from Western art history as a reference point; Nasema Nawe was inspired by Paul Gauguins painting Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) 1888, held in the Galleries collection.
In Nasema Nawe the onlookers in the foreground view a group of women performing baikoko, a form of dance and music that emerged in Kenya and Tanzania, typically performed between women, and often used by mothers to identify a suitable wife for their son. There has been a recent resurgence in the popularity and notoriety of baikoko in contemporary Africa, particularly in Tanzania, due to the Tanzanian pop star Diamond Platnumz, who featured a group of women dancing baikoko in the music video for his 2015 song Nasema Nawe', from which Armitage took the title of this painting. Translated from Swahili, Nasema Nawe can be loosely translated as I am talking to you. Baikoko was banned in public areas in Tanzania in 2015, having been deemed by authorities as dangerous; in his painting, Armitage reflects on the phenomenon of baikoko and the social context in which it is both performed and controlled.
As with all his works, Armitage painted Nasema Nawe with oil paint on Lubugo, a bark cloth from Uganda more commonly used to make sacred or ceremonial coverings. The dark red bark is beaten flat over hours or even weeks, creating a material which, when stretched, bares the traces of its making. Armitage incorporates the resulting holes and indentations into his composition, retaining its unique texture in the final work.
Michael Armitage lives and works between London and Nairobi. He received an undergraduate degree in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2003 2007) and has a Postgraduate Diploma from the Royal Academy Schools, London (20072010).
Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, said:
We are delighted this important painting by Michael Armitage has now entered the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, and that we are the first public collection in the UK to own his extraordinary work. His paintings have been on show in NOW over the last few months and have been received incredibly well by the public. We are extremely grateful to Harry and Lana David for their incredible generosity, in gifting this exceptional work to the nation.