Julie Mehretu’s Epigraph, Damascus (2016) is on display for the first time at MoMA, New York, as part of their collection exhibition. Curator Starr Figura has chosen to feature this work as a contemporary intervention or ‘a whirlwind of forces in motion’ in their fifth floor gallery titled ‘Responding to War‘.
Starr Figura describes the work as ‘a 17-foot wide tour-de-force of intaglio printmaking. Produced in collaboration with master printer Niels Borch Jensen and his team at BORCH Editions, Copenhagen, it was constructed in layers and assembled as six conjoined panels. For Mehretu, who is one of the most prolific and extraordinary printmakers of her generation, the process of printmaking has regularly facilitated major leaps in her practice. She explained that it allows her to “take things apart…and put things back together in a way that you can’t in painting.”
Mehretu created the work in response to the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011 and continues today. At its peak around 2015, when she started this print, the conflict resulted in the catastrophic loss of life and the destruction of major cities, including the capital, Damascus, and precipitated a massive refugee crisis. Look closely at the myriad markings in Epigraph, Damascus and you will notice an underlayer of delicate architectural drawings, some of them upside-down: windows, columns, and porticos of buildings that were bombed in Damascus as a result of the conflict. Layered on top and partially obscuring those details are myriad abstract markings that seem to coalesce into a squall that blows from the left side of the composition to the right: billowing smoke, perhaps, or the swell of a civilian uprising or a mass migration. As the artist explained, “You have the skeleton of the ghosts of Damascus, and then you have the blur, the haze, or breakdown of the ongoing civil war.”’
Mehretu’s Epigraph, Damascus (2016) is shown alongside work by Eva Hesse, José Clemente Orozco, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Jean Dubuffet, amongst others. This exhibition will be on display until 1 March 2024.
Collection Gallery 522, Floor 5, MoMA, New York
Learn more about Julie Mehretu