Ermias Ekube: Memories are we are memories

Ed Cross, London, United Kingdom
06 Jun 2024 - 29 Jun 2024

Emirat Ekube, Memories are we are Memories (detail) #7, 2023. Courtesy of Ed Cross

Emirat Ekube, Memories are we are Memories (detail) #7, 2023. Courtesy of Ed Cross

Ed Cross presents Memories are we are memories, a solo exhibition of new work by Ermias Ekube. Using mirrors as a central motif, Ekube’s series depicts domestic scenes and obscured figures, challenging us to confront the distortion inherent in reminiscence. Across more than a dozen works, parallels between mirrors and canvases – both hung on walls to be looked at, similar sizes and shapes – are reiterated; boundaries between art and life, dissolved.

There is a familial appeal to these tableaus – and in fact, many of the figures featured are members of the artist’s family. Yet any comfort conveyed by the series’ domestic settings is undercut by the disquieting inconsistencies revealed in their reflections: 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.

Throughout Memories, Ekube elaborates on a tension between the expected and the presented: between reality and reflection. As we become accustomed to the series’ conceit, mirrors reflecting things that aren’t there, our focus is inevitably drawn to what they don’t reflect – that is, us, the viewers peering into them. But it is no coincidence that the mirrors in each work echo the shape and function of paintings themselves.

Contemplating any work of art involves the projection of our own meanings onto it, bringing aspects of experience and personal histories to the interpretation. Just as writing is inevitably partly autobiographical, so a painting reflects not only its artist but its viewer too. Ekube’s mirrors at once literalise that reflection and refuse it – in the viewing, the artist’s audience is as obscured as his out-of-frame subjects.

That slippage between reality and artifice in Memories asks us to question our own recollections. Assuming that memories accurately reflect experiences, we invest them with huge importance – after all, these are the building blocks of identity, the pages that make up the stories we 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, memory is much less objective than we might like to imagine. Implicitly, 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 us to question our own stories as well as broader historical narratives. As the series unfolds, objective truth begins to look not only impossible but increasingly irrelevant – here, as ever, subjectivity prevails. Rather than kicking against our fallibility, the terror of how much we do not know, Ekube challenges us to embrace the uncertainty of our recollections; to recognise the personal and emotional layers that define our perceptions of reality and history. Paintings are mirrors are paintings. Memories are us, and we are memories.