A Most Present Future

Juxtapoz Art & Culture

By Sasha Bogojev 


It’s impossible to feel indifferent to the tasty work of London-born and Amsterdam-based painter Esiri Erheriene-Essi. And I specifically say, "tasty," because the first thing that whets your appetite is the mouth-watering, tangy, gummy bear palette. She will then intrigue with familiar visuals of everyday people doing everyday things, teasing your perception with thick, textured surfaces marked by bold, gesture-based visual language. 
Through a body of work developed over the last decade, Esiri aims to fill the gaps of a universal narrative that has often been overlooked by history. Dedicating her practice to subjects who play crucial roles embodying racial inclusion and justice, Esiri paints mostly large-scale figures of people of color worldwide. With portrayals of the most mundane of daily activities once reserved in our collective recorded history as predominantly white stories, Esiri recreates the past the way it actually looked.
Just weeks after her latest pieces were exhibited at the iconic Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam as a part of the Prix de Rome award ceremony, we talked with Esiri about the concept of her work, maternity, hoarding, and time traveling.
Sasha Bogojev: I wanted to start with the Prix de Rome award show at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. How did that come to be, and what did it mean for you?
Esiri Erheriene-Essi: The Prix de Rome came through an old tutor of mine from a residency called De Ateliers. I went there around 2007-2009, and Ronald Ophuis, a Dutch painter, was a guest tutor at the time. He's been following my work over the last 12 years, and when the Prix De Rome asked him to nominate two artists, I became one of his two choices. He just emailed me, I think, on the first of January this year and said, "I'm nominating you as my preference. Could you just give a proposal for a plan of what you would do?"
Then I was contacted by the Mondriaan Fund to tell me about an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and that I should submit a proposal. My son was five or six months old at the time, so I made the proposal on the phone while I was holding him. Within a day, I made a quick decision, my dream exhibition.
How did you feel about your chances of getting in?
I submitted it and didn't think anything more of it. I just did it as a favor to Ronald Ophuis. I had been telling him that painters never get anywhere, but was, like, "It's really nice that he thinks of me and of my work in that esteem, so I will do it for him."
I got the phone call in April to say that I was one of the last four, and then I had five months, starting from May, to make a whole new body of work.