Julie Mehretu and exploring the syncretic

Julie Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born artist (from Addis Ababa -coincidental link to a quick post on Freerange on Mulatu Astatke also hailing from Addis Ababa), who advanced her studies in Fine Art in the US and now works and lives in New York (generally).

I am continually drawn to her work, which is not accidentally architectural: she speaks very well on the subject of her work as studies/cosmologies/maps of cities and other tectonic and cultural spaces/structures.  I danced with the idea (and still do, often) of using this work in my architectural research, but whether or not I weave this into an academic enquiry, it remains a formative series of works in my worldview of architecture, and the greater ‘expanded field’ of things/worldliness.

Palimpsest (Old Gods)(Please click to get the super-size-me size).

I’ve recently acquired a monograph ‘Black City’ which is the first to publish a substantial collection of her work, past and present, and it is simply amazing.  I’ve selected a few of my favourites here, but you can view some of her work here, at White Cube who represent her, and here is a video/interview with Mehretu in Berlin, where her latest exhibition ‘Grey Area’ was shown (at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin) which has now travelled to the Guggenheim New York if you’re there, go see it!

An interpretation that I dallied with for a while, and hope to re-animate in the future, is the notion of syncretism, which refers to an ‘attempt at reconciliation of two opposing or different principles, practices, or parties…’, in my reading and understanding (or at least the part that I enjoy about it) is the idea of an equilibrium which nontheless sustains its aspects of tension. This idea not surprisingly was something that I was reading in architecture schools –my subject of interest– how an academic is responsible for simultaneously critiquing a body of knowledge, whilst disseminating it, or how an architecture student grapples with the hypothetical studio project (with all its fantasy, experimentation, failure, risk etc etc), whilst knowingly attempting to replicate and learn principles of the real world.  They are contradictory objectives, but they have to be maintained.

This is clearly not an idea exclusive to architectural education or architecture or architects, which is why I mentioned my deep interest in this work as a framework or doorway into an expanded field of thinking and being.  The obvious subject of some works in particular address the City, and it is immediately obvious that these works are grappling with the coded, multi-layered, crumbling, ghosting, dynamic, etc etc, representation of the City.  They are both fragmented, but approach wholeness; they surround the void with speeding and violent (or beautiful) mass and lines and points; they are architectural, but never building; they are constructed, of deconstructions; they attempt new meaning by obfuscating prior meaning… and they are huge.  The Seven Acts of Mercy (pictured here) is over 6 metres long, and nearly 3m tall.

I think these works probably explain more about me than I have been able to explain them to you about architecture (or the City), but I still wanted to share.  I’d love to hear from anyone in NY who could make it along to her show, it’s open til October I think.

2 Replies to “Julie Mehretu and exploring the syncretic”

  1. thank you for your beautiful words. i love the way you describe the thinkings of architecture students, being one, it made me smile. the art is also amazing.

  2. i forgot how i came in contact with Julie Mehretu’s work but from the minute i saw it, I was in love. “…they are architectural, but never building” is probably the best description I’ve read about her work.

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