There’s a strange kind of dance visitors to the Julie Mehretu show at London’s White Cube gallery take part in which is jolly fun to observe. At first they stand and take in the huge paintings, then move forward, faces inches from the canvases to examine the painstakingly layered detail, then back again, then forward ad infinitum.
It’s impossible not to join in. At her first solo show in London, the Ethiopian born, New York-based artist is exhibiting some extraordinary new pieces, with more sober and serious undertones than her previous work (which we featured last year).
Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts was created around the time of the Arab Spring revolutions and is named after Al-Mogamma – a government building in Tahir Square, Cairo, that was at the heart of the Egyptian uprising – while “mogamma” is also the Arab word for “collective.”
“I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power.”
They feature intricate outlines of architecture from public squares the world over, overlaid with smudges, scribbles,marks of all shapes and sizes and the odd bright line of acrylic. “I think architecture reflects the machinations of politics, and that’s why I am interested in it as a metaphor for those institutions,” she says. “I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power.”
It’s beguiling but confusing stuff; chaos over order, change over stasis, future over past, imagined over real. She plays similar games with Aether (Venice), the famous city’s architectural glories remixed into a tangled, complex web.
It might not be the most straightforward show to get your head around but it’s well worth the effort if you’re in London, plus you’ll certainly walk off your lunch while you’re there.
Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared is at White Cube Bermondsey until July 7.