February 07, 2013 - March 16, 2013
Churner and Churner presents Kenseth Armstead’s INFERNO, a series of graphic novel–inspired drawings that depict the true life story of the slave turned spy James Armistead Lafayette. Armstead’s fifty-one new drawings, tell the story of a double agent who helped end the American Revolution.
Armstead’s project explores the African-American experience inside the Revolution from the perspective of a historical figure, opening up the war to a new cast of heroes. Central among them is James Armistead, a Virginian slave who in 1781 volunteered (with his master’s permission) to spy on the British for the Marquis de Lafayette. Because the British were offering freedom to those who joined their ranks, Armistead was perfectly positioned to pretend he wanted to join Lord Charles Cornwallis’s camp. Cornwallis was so impressed by Armistead as a member of the British Army that he asked him to spy on the Patriots. Such a story of information and disinformation has been mostly lost to history; there are no black 007s in our history books. Armstead himself discovered James Armistead by chance; having stumbled upon the character by accident (the similarity of their names meant that the historical figure once popped up on an internet search), Armstead spent several years researching the character and then wrote a screenplay for a feature film about Armistead with Jaime Foxx cast in the lead role. (There is a certain ferocity to Armstead’s representation of the American Revolution that likens it more to Tarantino’sDjango Unchained than the PBS biopic on General Lafayette.)
It is as a graphic novel, however, that he finally decided to tell the story. The combination of word and image, the juxtaposition of scale, and the crossing of frames as indication of the passing of time were all comic conventions that Armstead was interested in, and he used this pulpy style to comment pointedly on America’s unresolved past with slavery.
Describing Armstead’s drawings, critic Mayukh Sen has written that the story is “alive in every frame, from detailed humanistic close-ups of Armistead to lush renders of landscape. … [The project] fosters the sort of complex historical dialogue that some of the greatest graphic novels of the modern era, from Maus to Persepolis, has ignited.” Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, INFERNO is a provocative combination of political history and memoir.
Kenseth Armstead is a multimedia installation artist. His works have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Berlin VideoFest; and the MIT List Visual Arts Center. His videos, drawings and sculptures are included in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, African American Museum in Dallas, Texas and numerous public and private collections. The New York Times, L Magazine, Art in America, Village Voice, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post have favorably reviewed his videos, sculptures and multimedia installations.
The list of grants won in support of Armstead’s work includes the Camille Hanks-Cosby Fellowship (1989,) the NYFA Video Fellowship (1996,) the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1999,) the NYSCA Individual Artist Award in Film/Video and New Technical Production (2007,) the Film/Media Grant from the Creative Capital Foundation (2008) and, most recently, the Digital Matrix Commission from the Longwood Arts Project and Bronx Council on the Arts (2008.)
Armstead received a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art & Design in 1990. While still an undergraduate, he participated in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Upon completion of his degree, he moved to New York City to attend the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program (1990-1991.) He now holds an MS in Integrated Digital Media from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, which awarded him The Excellence in Digital Media Award in 2005.
Armstead has co-authored multimedia installations collaboratively with the art-band, X-PRZ, which he co-founded with his mentor Tony Cokes in 1991. He was also the founding Managing Editor of Rhizome Internet, (rhizome.org) which he helped launch in 1996.
Recently, Armstead was the Artist in Residence at Harvestworks (2006); the Castle Trebesice outside Prague, CZ (2006); the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s, Workspace Program (2007); and Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology (2009.)
Scenes from Spook™ were presented in the Art Gallery of the Siggraph Asia 2009 conference in Yokohama, Japan. This past fall, outtakes from the Spook™ project were included in a feature length documentary which was broadcast on PBS nationally; “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” directed by the academy award nominated, Oren Jacoby. Armstead was also an historical consultant on the project.
Armstead lives & works in Brooklyn, NY. His work is represented by Churner and Churner gallery.