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Julie Mehretu (Bermondsey, 2023)

Julie Mehretu

They departed for their own country another way (a 9x9x9 hauntology)

15 September – 5 November 2023


15 September – 5 November 2023


White Cube Bermondsey

144 – 152 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3TQ

Directing a focus towards enduring conflict, widespread displacement and the asymmetry of power, Mehretu takes as her subject images sourced from current affairs media, in particular the ongoing war in Ukraine and the events of the US Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021.

Julie Mehretu’s solo exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, ‘They departed for their own country another way (a 9x9x9 hauntology)’, debuts three new series of paintings consisting of nine works each. Presented alongside these works, in the 9x9x9 gallery Mehretu has paired her title track painting with a sculpture by visual artist Nairy Baghramian, in response to an ongoing dialogue between the two artists.

Marking Mehretu’s fifth exhibition with the gallery, the title of the show draws from the biblical verse Matthew 2:12, wherein God imparts a message to the Magi through a dream, cautioning them against the duplicity of King Herod, so that they return from paying homage to the infant Jesus as altered human beings. This age-old admonition finds poignant resonance in Mehretu’s new body of work, which continues her exploration of our discordant contemporaneity. Directing a focus towards enduring conflict, widespread displacement and the asymmetry of power, Mehretu takes as her subject images sourced from current affairs media, in particular the ongoing war in Ukraine and the events of the US Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021.

A dialogue between Mehretu and Baghramian is introduced in the 9x9x9 gallery, where the artist’s large-scale painting, They departed for their own country another way (2023), is displayed alongside Baghramian’s abstract sculpture S’asseyant (2022). A three-part ‘slab’ of cast aluminium and silicon, S’asseyant’s weighty, unpolished forms rest prostrate upon the floor. In this decidedly lateral placement, the disarticulate body lays osseous, dimpled by pressures of casting and partly cushioned by a gummy wad of silicon. Baghramian’s work expresses a cogent, felt presence in the space, one perceived by Mehretu to be ‘the impression of a body that has gotten up and walked away, or detritus after a tragic event that caused the body to melt and leave behind a scarred impression on rough aluminium.’ In contrast to the gestural dynamism of Mehretu’s large-scale painting, the sculpture’s materiality – its irregularity of form and torpid gravitational pull – acts as a mooring in the space. In tandem, both the painting and sculpture share a vitality born out of erasure and fragmentation, compelling one another to embody their respective imperfection and the ‘liberation of the figure, or of representation itself.’

Occupying White Cube Bermondsey’s South Gallery II, the artist’s series of ‘classic’ paintings employ her distinctive process of digitally obscuring the original source images, rearticulating them through hyperactive layers of halftone dots, aeriform hazes of bright yellow or green and convulsive black marks that echo the symphonic dissonance of the original photographs. Locating the paintings in source material of geopolitical violence and the fraught preservations of nationhood, Mehretu’s compositions abrade these images through layers of process. In turn, the blunt influence of the original material recedes into a dismantled and centrifugal entropy, as though partially schematising the embodied impact and impulsive response of the event’s aftermath.

In the same space, a new group of ‘TRANSpaintings’ arranged ‘in the round’, are installed on aluminium frames and scaffolds. These sculptural support structures, created by Baghramian and one aspect of the artists’ active discourse, serve a multifaceted purpose; clamping and bracing the paintings to stand upright, they lend agency to the artwork’s presence within the space while their placement at differing heights compels a direct encounter with the viewer. Additionally, the use of translucent material creates lustrous, ethereal images that permit light to pass through the surface and movement in the space to activate it. Infiltrating the works’ nebulous forms, they become a synthesis of image, action and space that further complicates the viewer’s relationship to – and entanglement with – the abject image.

The third and final element of this tripartite exhibition of nines, are Mehretu’s ‘Femenine in nine’ paintings, which mark a departure from the implicit referentiality of the ‘classic’ paintings and ’TRANSpaintings’. Within these new works, the artist’s characteristic delineations find themselves adrift in deep chasms of darkness. The iridescent marks and scrawls that densely populate the surface become animated by the viewer’s orbit. Here, the prismatic tints of Mehretu’s paintings privilege an exuberance of varied surface application, conjuring energies that oscillate from the feverish to the stilled. Each composition is enlivened by motion, where hues appear to flourish anew; for instance, from one angle emitting a verdant green and from another a shocking, metallic pink. Much like an oil slick, or the biological occurrence that results in phosphenes, the image integrates itself into the viewer’s choreography through space, morphing with each incremental change in position. Guided solely by the figuration of charged mark-making and hazy interjections of graffitied colour, the works create riotous landscapes in perpetual flux, mirroring our contemporary condition of rupture and uncertainty.


Julie Mehretu was born in Addis Ababa in 1970 and lives and works in New York. She has exhibited extensively including a travelling mid-career survey at the LACMA, Los Angeles, California (2019), travelling to High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia (2020); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2021); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2021). Other solo exhibitions include Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK (2019); Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal (2017); Centro Botín, Santander, Spain (2017); Gebre Kristos Desta Center, Addis Ababa (2016); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009); The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan (2007) touring to Williams College Art Gallery, Williamstown, Massachusetts and North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh (both 2008); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain, touring to Kunstverein Hannover, Germany and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (2006–07); St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri (2005); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, touring to REDCAT, Los Angeles and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, (2003–04).

Selected group exhibitions include the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Performa 17, New York (2017); 12th Sharjah Biennial (2015); 10th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2014); Document 13, Kassel, Germany (2012); 15th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2006); 26th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil (2004); 54th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2004); Whitney Biennial, New York (2004); and 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003).

In 2005 Mehretu was the recipient of the MacArthur Fellows Award and the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2015 she was awarded the US Department of State Medal of Arts Award. Mehretu is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and The National Academy of Design.

Nairy Baghramian was born in Isfahan, Iran in 1971, and lives and works in Berlin. Primarily a sculptural artist, her work explores form and content in response to contextual conditions such as architecture, medium, language and history. Ongoing solo exhibitions include ‘YOU ARE HERE*: Contemporary Art in the Garden’, MoMA, New York; ‘Scratching the Back’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and ‘Nairy Baghramian: Jupon de Corps’, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado. Other recent solo shows include those at Carré d’Art, Nîmes, France (2022); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas (2022); Secession, Vienna (2022); Galleria d’Arte Moderna (GAM), Milan, Italy (2021); MUDAM Luxembourg (2019); Palacio de Cristal, Madrid (2018).

Baghramian has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Nivola Award for Sculpture (2023); the Nasher Prize Laureate (2022); the Zurich Art Prize (2016); the Arnold-Bode Prize, Kassel, Germany (2014); the Hector Prize, Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany (2012); and the Ernst Schering Foundation Award (2007). She has participated in the Yorkshire Sculpture International at The Hepworth Wakefield, UK (2019); Venice Biennale, Italy (2019 and 2011); Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany (2017 and 2007); the 8th and 5th Berlin Biennale (2014 and 2008); and Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, Scotland (2012).

Installation Views

Featured Works

Julie Mehretu

They departed for their own country another way, 2023

Julie Mehretu

Everywhen, 2021—23

Julie Mehretu

Out of The Dreaming, 2022—23

Julie Mehretu

Revenant Maroons, 2022

Julie Mehretu

TRANSpaintings (hand), 2023

Julie Mehretu

TRANSpaintings (recurrence), 2023

Conversations: Julie Mehretu and Adrienne Edwards


Julie Mehretu ‘They departed for their own country another way (a 9x9x9 hauntology)’ (2024)

Illustrating three bodies of work in abundant detail, including new illustrations of the artist’s ‘TRANSpaintings’ (2023–24), this publication provides an in-depth record of Mehretu’s enigmatic and multi-layered works.


Julie Mehretu

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