Galerie Ron Mandos is proud to present I am here because you were there, a solo exhibition with new works by Esiri Erheriene-Essi. The paintings on show are an inventory of everyday stories and ordinary moments. They are championing and chronicling Black experiences by exploring untold, often forgotten and even neglected narratives of people of the African diaspora. Erheriene-Essi’s paintings can be seen as speculative history writing, collaging the past and the present – acknowledging just how fragmented and circumstantial history is.
Building on her previous series The Inheritance (Familiar Strangers) from 2019, these works are based on Black vernacular source images from the artist’s archive, created with a commitment to make visible the richness of Black lives. As a painter, Erheriene-Essi is tickled by the distinctive colour scheme of the old photos, often saturated and faded at the same time. She uses a vast range of colour in her paintings as a way to make up for the flattened, dulled and darkened portrayal of brown skin in the instamatic photographs from the 1950s to 1980s due to a design ‘oversight’ – the film being created with the best representation of only white skin in mind.
The British/Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall made famous the words of the British Sri Lankan political thinker Ambalavaner Sivanandan; “We are here because they were there […]” which sharply pinpoints post-colonial migration. In describing historical connections the line can serve as a reminder whenever ‘whiteness’ finds de-colonising itself exhausting. However, Erheriene-Essi says, “I refuse to continue being in relation to whiteness (as some make-believe norm), so here I choose to use this quote in a different way. With the title I am here because you were there I want to honour and celebrate people like my mother Helen, her mother Oghenochuko and her grandmother Odavwaro who all walked different paths in different times but all have enabled me to walk mine.”