White Cube Bermondsey presents ‘Amongst the Living’, an exhibition of works by Michael Armitage alongside sculptures by Seyni Awa Camara.
Following Armitage’s recent show at Kunsthalle Basel, ‘You, Who Are Still Alive’, this exhibition features recent paintings and works on paper produced during the past three years in London and Nairobi. Having admired the work of Senegalese artist Seyni Awa Camara over many years, Armitage has included a group of Camara’s terracotta sculptures in this, the first major presentation of her work in the UK.
Set within East Africa, Armitage weaves narratives drawn from literature, film, politics, history and myth. The subjects for these new paintings are drawn from a wide range of sources, reimagined with a sensibility that might be likened to magic realism. Whether painted outdoors in Kenya or in Armitage’s London studio, his landscape, or urban vistas, collide timescales – compressing past and present, the real and imagined. Multiple viewpoints, superimpositions of outlines and figures, saturated and vaporous swathes of vivid colour and passages of translucent wash create a dense pictorial language in which materiality and form effortlessly meld, where subject and subtext have equal status and thematic power.
Painting with oil on Lubugo, a cloth made from fig tree bark from Uganda that is traditionally used in ceremonial burial rituals, Armitage’s choice of ground is resonant: an attempt, he has remarked, to both locate and destabilise the subjects of his paintings. Beaten, stretched taut and then sewn together, Lubugo has a characterful, natural tactility with pitting, texture and holes that offer a resistance to paint. Working with this ground, in Armitage’s paintings the surface and support work together as integral components of the pictorial space.
‘The experience of seeing Camara’s sculptures is difficult to articulate. It is how I would imagine it would feel to meet a voiceless spirit of someone you once knew well − your imagination struggling to put a single image from your memories to the spirit yet knowing exactly who they are. In this sense there is something extremely familiar yet totally other worldly about Camara’s sculptures.’
– Michael Armitage, 2022
Now in her eighties, Seyni Awa Camara lives and works in the Casamancian village of Bignona, Senegal, where she was born. Initiated into the traditional techniques of ceramics by her mother when she was a child, Camara’s own practice quickly moved away from the utilitarian to the artistic, in visions guided by what she terms as gifts. Talking about herself and her two brothers, Camara has said: ‘We were sheltered by God’s spirits, who taught us to work with clay.’