Esiri Erheriene-Essi – Museum Arnhem – solo exhibition

From 18 April until 7 September 2014 Museum Arnhem will present Don’t support the greedy, the first major, museum solo exhibition of Esiri Erheriene-Essi. “I like those scenes in which everything comes together, where various sources and diverse disciplines—art, politics and pop songs—converge to form a new entity,” remarks the artist. 

The title Don’t support the greedy is taken from one of the many texts that Esiri Erheriene-Essi (London, 1982) has chosen to accompany her paintings. The text is inscribed on a placard held by the three singers, the Supremes, who often appear as a theme in Erheriene-Essi’s paintings. For the artist this trio symbolizes the 1960s, the era of race riots, the black panther party and Martin Luther King, Jr.; meanwhile these black soul singers hid their Afro hairstyles under wigs during performances, smoothing over the seedier realities of oppression behind the scenes. The text appears on the painting Pussy Riot (For Assata) (2013) that not for nothing refers to the contemporary Russian female protest punk group who— unlike the Supremes—do not disguise their social and political criticisms.

Erheriene-Essi employs in her paintings and drawings a plain style, sometimes mixed with flat, taut lines. Through the expressive use of colors—a great deal of yellow and red—and raw, sketch-like streaks, she paints subjects inspired by an immense archive of images from newspapers, magazines, and films, on the one-hand, and by music and literature, on the other. Contemporary events sometimes form the connection to seize back events from the past. It is striking how different events through images and text are combined with each other, allowing connections to be made that are also relevant to our understanding of the present. She sees painting as the medium par excellence by which the complexity of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries can be captured. A painting for her is the equivalent of conducting a conversation in which all kinds of viewpoints come into play and can be addressed.

During 2007 – 2009, Esiri Erheriene-Essi participated in a two-year post-master residency program at De Ateliers in Amsterdam where she has lived ever since that date. She won the Dutch Royal Prize for Painting in 2009. In the meantime and ever since she has continued to push her work to new heights.

Her exhibition at Museum Arnhem is her first solo-show at a major museum and will feature a selection of her work from 2006 through 2014.


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ABOUT Esiri Erheriene-Essi

Born in 1982 in London, United Kingdom
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Esiri Erheriene-Essi is predominately a painter of mid to large-scale paintings concerned with figuration, history and society. She is captivated by history – in particular, images, objects, and documents which we can return to, in order to examine both individual and shared memories and histories. A large part of her practice entails collecting and creating an archive, which could potentially become incorporated into her work. Archives are important to the artist as they create links and orders that she can question and play with – she searches for the discrepancies, the silences, in order to, through painting, create interruptions and assaults on the canonical historical narrative. With hindsight, bias and curiosity, she takes these discordances and brings them up to the surface. Erheriene-Essi continuously re-edits the narratives with the hope of robbing history of some of its tyrannical power by creating new scenarios. Or rather, she is incessantly attempting to imagine more humane and liberating narratives than what has gone before. In the process she perhaps slightly changes our readings of history and thereby shows how we write the present.

In her work, Erheriene-Essi makes many references to popular culture, because popular culture is profoundly mythic and loaded. The canvases she makes are a theatre of popular desires and fantasies, where we all can discover and play with the process of identification. These ‘theatrical scenes’ show the imagined as well as the underrepresented, not only to the viewer but also to the artist herself. The paintings ‘play’ in their own way – they are telling a story, even though the scenes have no beginning, middle or end – they are cut off mid flow, out of context, are frozen, silent and still. Yet they have ‘sound’ as if they are performing and want to be heard. The audience is continuously invited to watch as well as to try and decipher the haphazard plot in which characters are encased in. The good thing about performing on canvas is that anything is possible – and that is what intrigues Erheriene-Essi the most.