Birmingham raised artist Michael Clarke has opened his first ever public exhibition which explores British colonialism and his African heritage.

The Dambala art exhibition – free and open to all – is currently running at Digbeth Art Space in Gibb Street, within the Zellig building complex.

Michael Clarke is a resident artist at Digbeth Art Space and is proud that his debut art show is taking place in the city where he was raised.

Artist Michael Clarke was raised in BirminghamDigbeth Art Space
Artist Michael Clarke was raised in Birmingham and is proud to have his exhibition displayed in Digbeth

The artist is adept at using inks and pencils, and is also highly accomplished in graphic design and AI art, but his debut show concentrates on oil paintings.

Clarke has previously appeared on the popular Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2022 show and is now taking the art world by storm with material that touches upon themes and passions that are close to his heart.

His painting style evokes the texture and lighting techniques of the Italian Renaissance which makes Clarke’s poignant subject matter appear timeless and compelling.

Granmet by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
Granmet by Michael Clarke
Detail from Righteous Man by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
Detail from Righteous Man by Michael Clarke

Clarke colours and lights even the darkest moments in his series of paintings with an almost religious ambience which makes the canvasses look like material seen inside a cathedral.

The subjects in his premiere exhibition is a series of paintings which throw a beautiful and thought-provoking  spotlight on the people of Africa and their dynamic stories which Clarke frees from the shackles of longstanding stereotypes.

The paintings in the exhibition celebrate the grace and indomitable spirit of African women while also taking in the haunting resilience of the men who refuse to have their identities and heritage robbed by the nightmarish greed of European slave traders who profited from human enslavement and misery.

Mambo by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
Mambo by Michael Clarke

Clarke’s paintings in the Dambala exhibition range from the mythic to the contemporary. The range of emotions in the paintings go from pain and loss to excitement and playfulness.

A painting of Anansi the spider-man, the artful trickster from African folk tales who outwits opponents far bigger and stronger than him, nestles near a painting depicting a contemporary young girl joyfully careening on a skateboard.

The artist also delicately references the disturbing horrors of The Slave Trade and British Colonialism, and contrasts that with the joys of freedom, love and hope.

YondaWorld by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
YondaWorld by Michael Clarke

Explaining the title of the exhibition, Clarke said: “Through all the many horrors of slavery, what remained in the captives was oral traditions.

“Tales of Duppies, Anansi, Loa and Dambala.

“Many enslaved cried out to Dambala; the sky father and their children would go on to do the same.”

Detail from Colonial Exoticism by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
Detail from Colonial Exoticism by Michael Clarke
Righteous Yout by Michael ClarkeRangzeb Hussain
Righteous Yout by Michael Clarke

The artist hopes this exhibition will not only be leaving his mark on the art world, but it will also generate a long overdue debate about the heritage and ethnicity of people whose contribution to human history is all too often neglected by historians and society.

Like other contemporary artists, Clarke offers a critical perspective on social, political, and cultural issues, challenging the viewer with his evocative figures and expressions.

Clarke’s art acts as a bridge that offers the audience food for thought which challenges prejudices and opens the door to a new narrative about the African continent and its diverse cultures.

The Dambala exhibition is being hosted by Digbeth Art SpaceRangzeb Hussain
The Dambala exhibition is on show at Digbeth Art Space until 26 June

Clarke’s powerful art exhibition is taking place at Digbeth Arts Space (DAS) which is located at Zellig in Gibb Street.

DAS is a multipurpose space that acts as an art gallery and a shop with a dedicated and loyal community of over 500 creatives.

Digbeth Art Space has a mission to provide unique and immersive experiences, and to offer platforms and spaces to support emerging creatives by giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents without the commercial pressures associated with the funded and private sectors which can sometimes hinder and limit the potential of emerging talent.

The Dambala exhibition at Digbeth Art Space will run until Monday 26 June.

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