Dismay at the Arab spring and Julie Mehretu’s new direction

Courtesy the artist & carlier | gebauer
Courtesy the artist & carlier | gebauer

Julie Mehretu’s multi-layered paintings marry oil with ink and pencil to create vortices of chaos in a new series of large-scale works are currently on view at Carlier Gebauer gallery in Berlin.  The 44 year old painter, who hails from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and currently resides in New York, channels the war, violence and loss of hope that occurred in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in her new works. 

The chaos of the current works mirrors the chaotic conflict that has engulfed the region in the wake of the uprising: “You have these horrific situations in the war that is taking place in places like Syria. How do you maintain that idealism in the face of this? How can you invent something else? I feel like in a way these paintings come this place of retreat, from this place of dismay.” The new pictorial language reflects Mehretu’s striving for a different form of expression: “I wanted it to be about the mark-making and the effort of trying to invent new language, new space,” she says.

Courtesy the artist & carlier | gebauer
Courtesy the artist & carlier | gebauer

While there is some discernible structure in the paintings – abstract landscapes, jungles and marks that take the appearance of Twombly-esque scribbles – Mehretu has mostly eradicated the orderly composition she is known for. “The mark making has always been such an integral part to the paintings. In the past, you had the architectural underpinning, which gives the social and political context to the painting”. In this case, that was the Arab Spring and its promise of freedom. The works thus form a point of departure from earlier pieces, shown at d(OCUMENTA) 13 and held in the MoMA’s permanent collection – the chaos has replaced orderly structure and architectural allusions. “There is this battle between earlier works and this body of paintings,” she notes. This battle is reflective of Mehretu’s struggle to develop a personal voice and history in the face of the unceasing forces of destruction.

Text by Jeni Fulton

The exhibition “Half A Shadow” is on view at Carlier Gebauer until 1 November 2014 at Markgrafenstr. 67, 10969 Berlin


More art reviews and interviews in Showroom

The full interview with Julie Mehretu will be published in the forthcoming issue of Sleek Magazine.

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