By Camille Amezcua ’22
Myriads, Only By Dark (2014) by Julie Mehretu demonstrates a language of movement visualized through mark-making: pushing, colliding, cutting, scraping, and yet feigning stillness as the ink glides from tip to paper. Myriads is a series of four panels, each featuring an image that evokes both physical and sensorial emotions. Mehretu originally conceived Myriads to be four separate prints, though later, placed them together to be read as a collective. The panels act as a performance, resembling a dissection of her identity. Myriads is a part of a “self-ethnographic” project in which Mehretu addresses social identity. The panels represent experience and act as a response to the social space in which Mehretu’s body inhabits and challenges. In 2003, Mehretu said in an interview, “One of the first points of departure in making my work was an investigation of who I am as an artist… It developed into a ‘self-ethnographic’ project for which I began to dissect my lineage and ancestry in an effort to further understand the formation of my own identity.”
The first panel, subtitled (unfolded body map), depicts hands and animal tracks that are anthropomorphic (fig. 1). The shape of the design is one that most closely resembles a body. It reminds me of cloud watching, drawing imagery from forms. This is precisely Mehretu’s intention as the reader’s eye proceeds from left to right. The second panel subtitled (mathematics of droves), acts as a device of guidance: “droves” having two meanings, the first a herd of animals being driven by a body and second a large number of people or things doing or undergoing the same experience (fig. 2). This panel presents a large gap which cleaves the distinct forms of hands and patterned prints from the first print to explode in a fast stroke of intersecting lines. The faint geometric colored lines appear more furiously in this panel. Mehretu presents chaos, as if she is illustrating a conflict. Author Toni Morrison says in her anthology, The Source of Self-Regard, “Conflict is a condition of intellectual life, and, I believe, it’s pleasure.” Our minds crave knowledge, we perceive what is symmetrical, beautiful, grotesque, and also have the ability to imagine and explore. (Mathematics of droves) begins the exploration from the first unfolded body map, understanding what it means to exist in a system or “a driven body.”
The third panel, (indigene), closes the large chasm from the second print (fig. 3). The hands reemerge and the lines spew from the center in which two small holes still appear. Mehretu builds on her calligraphic marks, which heighten the sensorial interaction with the panel, as if she is building a symphonic composition. (Indigene) means an indigenous person; perhaps the body in the first panel is resembled here but evolved from past experience. Its subtitle connotes ancestral roots. The last panel continues this exploration of heritage as it suggests a final destination of (origin).
(Origin), the fourth panel, presents a shaped fissure, a great diamond that acts as a stark hole bordered on its bottom two sides with the colors pink and orange (fig. 4). It is the most colorful piece out of the four. The grey lines no longer sprawl in similar direction, but hoard in a dense pack around the glowing rhombus. The cut of shape reminds me of an illumination on a manuscript, as if its purpose is to guide my eye to read there first. My eye then travels to the thick hands that engrave themselves as if they are tracing their steps.
Mehretu has created a shaped, studied, and artistic language, a lexicon of lines. The works trace both a temporal and geographical bodily outline. They grapple with the reaction that occurs when space shapes bodies and explore how bodies can inform the spaces they inhabit. It is within this visual vocabulary that color, shape, and line can draw attention to theoretical ideas, prompting an artistic culture of intimate knowledge. For myself, I imagine Mehretu visualizing liberation from societal, historical, and cultural confinements in Myriads, Only By Dark. In her art she has found freedom, to draw oneself into a liminal space in which you live directly in harmony with the movement of lines and color.
 “Julie Mehretu, Myriads, Only By Dark, 2014.” National Gallery of Art, 2014.
 Morrison, Toni. (2019), The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations. New York, NY: Vintage International, 262.