Art in the Diaspora

A Recap of Ermias Ekube’s ‘Memories Are We Are Memories’ at Ed Cross in London

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Ethiopian artist Ermias Ekube’s solo exhibition ‘Memories Are We Are Memories’ concluded at Ed Cross on the 29th of June 2024 on Garret Street in London. Using mirrors as a central motif, Ekube’s series depicted domestic scenes and obscured figures, challenging the viewer to confront the distortion inherent in reminiscence. With more than a dozen works showcased, the series depicted parallels between mirrors and canvases. Revealing a familial appeal, any comfort conveyed by the series’ domestic settings is undercut by the inconsistencies revealed in the reflections of the pieces: a hand holding a cafetiere appears in the mirror to be holding an espresso cup instead; an orange on a table vanishes in the mirror that should reflect it.

Ermias Ekube, Memories Are We Are Memories #7, 2023, Oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm, Image courtesy of Ed Cross website

Throughout ‘Memories’, Ekube elaborated on a tension between the expected and the presented: between reality and reflection. As viewers became accustomed to the series’ conceit, mirrors reflecting things that aren’t there, their focus was inevitably drawn to what they didn’t reflect: the viewers peering into them. But it is no coincidence that the mirrors in each work echoed the shape and function of paintings themselves. Contemplating any work of art involves the projection of the viewers’ own meanings onto it, bringing aspects of experience and personal histories to the interpretation. Ekube’s mirrors showed the artist’s audience as his obscured out-of-frame subjects. That slippage between reality and artifice in ‘Memories’ asks the viewer to question their own recollections.

Ermias Ekube, Memories Are We Are Memories #10, 2023, Oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm, Image courtesy of Ed Cross website

This exhibition speaks to the assumption that memories accurately reflect experiences as well as the level with which the artists, viewers, and all people invest them with huge importance as the building blocks of identity, the pages that make up the stories people tell about ourselves. Yet, much as the mirrors in Ekube’s paintings mess with the objects in front of them, so memories are often distorted, charged with emotion, strained by time and bias such that memory is much less objective than anyone might like to imagine. In ‘Memories’ Ekube asks: is it possible to remember something without mediating it? Can there be recollection without reflection? What is canvas and what is mirror? Underscoring memory’s inherent unreliability, Ekube prompts the viewer to question their own stories as well as broader historical narratives. As the series unfolds, objective truth begins to look not only impossible but increasingly irrelevant as subjectivity prevails. Rather than kicking agains the terror of how much the viewer does not know, Ekube challenges the viewer to embrace the uncertainty of their recollections; to recognise the personal and emotional layers that define their perceptions of reality and history. Paintings are mirrors are paintings. Memories are we are memories.

Ermias Ekube, Memories Are We Are Memories #31, 2024, Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, Image courtesy of Ed Cross website

Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa. She holds a BA Honours in English and an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Rhodes University. Lelethu currently writes for Art Network Africa.

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