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Born 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Lives New York, USA.

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YS Haka (and Riot), 2019, ink and acrylic on canvas, 365.8 × 457.2 cm (144 × 180 in), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Resuscitating memories of places, usually at a monumental scale, Mehretu excerpts archivally sourced architectural plans and maps drawn from the colonial imagination to track the impact of wars and displacements. Forced into childhood exile soon after the socialist Derg regime assumed power in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s, first in Senegal before settling in Michigan, Mehretu returned to her birthplace later, having already embarked on a life as an artist. Motivated to voice and reposition histories both big and small, her gestural abstract paintings assume the breadth of murals and disorient in their disruption of planes that are quoted from the record.

Conventions associated with social orders as well as the art-historical canon are shattered in service to a truer picture, a vantage point onto the histories of places and sites of trauma. In Haka (and Riot), for example, layers of information – painting, airbrushing, screen-printing, and drawing both digital and hand-applied – obscure photographs of immigration detention centres in California and Texas to the point of abstraction. Mehretu’s inclusion in Thelma Golden’s influential 2001 show ‘Freestyle’ at the Studio Museum in Harlem set in motion her dynamic trajectory of exhibitions.

This text is adapted from Phaidon’s publication 'African Artists: From 1882 to Now', with introduction by Chika Okeke-Agulu and glossary by Joseph L Underwood.

As featured in the New York Times, ARTnews, Colossal, Metropolis and New York Magazine’s The Strategist - the book is a groundbreaking A-Z survey of the work of over 300 modern and contemporary artists born or based in Africa.

Latitudes Co-Founder, Lucy MacGarry consulted on the selection process for the artists featured within the publication. 


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