You must first login or register to follow this artist.

b. 1970, Ethiopia

Julie Mehretu Biography

Declared one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020, visual artist and MacArthur Fellow Julie Mehretu's practice explores history, geopolitics, migration, and urban development.

Read More

The Ethiopia-born New York artist is co-founder of interdisciplinary arts organisation Denniston Hill (with Paul Pfeiffer and Lawrence Chua).

Early Years

Mehretu was born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When the country's sociopolitical situation began to deteriorate following the 1974 revolution, her family moved to the United States, where Mehretu earned a BA degree from Kalamazoo College and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997.

As a global citizen aware of what it means to be an artist today, the artist says painting is about negotiating who she is and where she finds herself. This is evident in her artworks that have been drawn from politics, literature, news media, and music.

Julie Mehretu Artworks

While Julie Mehretu's dynamic, large-scale paintings may appear at first glance to be gestural and expressive, each work contains heavily mediated processes of digital intervention, layering, and erasure.

Empirical Construction

In 2003, Mehretu presented Empirical Construction, Istanbul, at the Istanbul Biennale as a 'portrait of a city'. In lieu of a depiction of the historic city as a place the artist presented an abstract vortex of arching and angled lines packed with symbols and signifiers of the historic metropolis' past and present.

A product of overlaying, various imagery and documentation the city's architecture and topography the work is an early example of Mehretu's palimpsest collage approach to image-making.

Mediating Images

Mehretu begins her paintings by collecting news photographs of public gatherings, protests, natural disasters, and other global events. Using a computer, she collages and manipulates the images beyond recognition before airbrushing them onto canvas in a process she refers to as 'melting'. From there, the images are overlaid with ink, acrylic paint, architectural drawings, and gestural marks.

Even when the original news images are obscured, Mehretu believes their distilled essence imbues the paintings with a level of deep resonance. This method of mediating images represents, she says, how 'history is made: one layer on top of another, erasing itself, consuming itself, inventing something else from the same thing.'

The results of these processes vary greatly from work to work. The intersecting lines and smudges of black pigment in Cairo (2013), for example, resemble a Chinese landscape painting, while the bold washes of colour and scrawls on the surface of Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson (2016) evoke a kinetic crowd of figures.

Protest and Revolution

The titles of Mehrutu's artworks suggest protest and revolution are particular areas of interest to the artist, particularly given her family's migration in the 1970s.

Exhibited as part of the 2019 Venice Biennale May You Live In Interesting Times, Julie Mehretu's series 'Mogamma (A Painting in Four Parts)' (2011–2012) was inspired by the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Citing opacity and abstraction as the core of her practice, Mehretu told Ocula Magazine that she considers abstraction as a place 'where one can invent other images or possibilities. It's not about delineating or defining some concrete political perspective, or some directive on how to understand things, or even a historical narrative. It's about the collision of all those things—the uncertainty and murmurings of all that.' Mehretu argues for the right of artists—especially 'Black artists or artists of colour, who are expected to explain who they are and to tell the world their perspectives'—to work in an opaque way that denies reductive categorisation.

about the space of half an hour

Mehretu has, more recently, largely dropped rigorous architectural drawings from her repertoire, and turned toward a pictorial blurriness that represents the cognitive confusion of our times. Emerging from this shift, her solo exhibition about the space of half an hour at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York (2020) featured works that were made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The works presented in about the space of half an hour were also inspired by the notion of the 'calm before the storm', as Mehretu described to Ocula Magazine in a 2020 conversation. In the photogravure and aquatint work Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Third Seal (R 6:5) (2020), areas of filmy light and shadow behind layers of black scrawls create the illusion of a blurred photograph just out of sight.

Awards and Accolades

In 2005, Mehretu received a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Whitney Museum's American Art Award, and in 2018 received the Liberty Art Award for Artistic Leadership.


Julie Mehretu's has been the subject of numerous solo and group institutional exhibitions.

The artist's solo exhibitions include: about the space of half an hour, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (2020); Julie Mehretu, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2019); Julie Mehretu: A Universal History of Everything and Nothing, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto (2017); Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); Julie Mehretu: Black City, MUSAC-Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Léon, Spain (2006); Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting, Art Center, Minneapolis (2003).

Julie Mehretu's group exhibitions include: Writing is drawing, The Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France (2021); An Incomplete History of Protest, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Divine Comedy, National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C (2015); Seeking New Genealogy – Art, Body, Performance, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2014); The Bearden Project, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2011); Comic Abstraction, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007); Africa Remix, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf (2004); The Americans, Barbican Art Gallery, London (2001).


Julie Mehretu's Instagram can be found here.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022

Julie Mehretu
featured artworks

Untitled by Julie Mehretu contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Julie Mehretu Untitled, 2001 Ink on mylar paper
48.26 x 50.8 cm
White Cube Request Price & Availability
Untitled (provisional) by Julie Mehretu contemporary artwork painting, sculpture
Julie Mehretu Untitled (provisional), 2020 Drypoint and engraving on copper plate, somerset satin paper, 300 gr. with gampi chine collé
40.6 x 43.3 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Request Price & Availability

Julie Mehretu
current & recent exhibitions

View 7 More
View 7 More

Julie Mehretu
represented by

Marian Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA
Marian Goodman Gallery Los Angeles, New York, Paris
White Cube contemporary art gallery in Bermondsey, London, United Kingdom
White Cube Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, West Palm Beach
View 7 More

Julie Mehretu
in Ocula Magazine

Read 3 More
Read 3 More

Julie Mehretu
in Ocula Advisory

Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Follow Julie Mehretu
Stay ahead.
Receive updates on new artworks,
exhibitions and articles.
Your personal data is held in accordance with our privacy policy.
Do you have an Ocula account?
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Get Access
Join Ocula to request price and availability of artworks, exhibition checklists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Do you have an Ocula account? Login
What best describes your interest in art?

Subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming exhibitions, available works, events and more.
By clicking Sign Up or Continue with Facebook or Google, you agree to Ocula's Terms & Conditions. Your personal data is held in accordance with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you for joining us. Just one more thing...
Soon you will receive an email asking you to complete registration. If you do not receive it then you can check and edit the email address you entered.
Thank you for joining us.
You can now request price and availability of artworks, exhibition checklists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Welcome back to Ocula
Enter your email address and password below to login.
Reset Password
Enter your email address to receive a password reset link.
Reset Link Sent
We have sent you an email containing a link to reset your password. Simply click the link and enter your new password to complete this process.