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opening reception: Thursday, February 7, 6-8pm

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 Jamie 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’s Django 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.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Kenseth Armstead has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Berlin VideoFest, and the MIT List Visual Arts Center. His works are included in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the African-American Museum, Dallas, Texas, and the Brooklyn Museum, along with numerous public and private collections. He was the founding managing editor of Rhizome Internet (rhizome.org), which he helped launch in 1996. The list of awards 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 the Digital Matrix Commission from the Longwood Arts Project and Bronx Council on the Arts (2008). His work has been reviewed in ArtLog, Artslant, the New York Times, L Magazine, and the Village Voice.

For more information, contact Rachel Churner at rachel@churnerandchurner.com or 212-675-2750.