Iridium over Aleppo

Julie Mehretu, Ethiopian, born 1970


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Ink and acrylic on linen

Overall: 108 × 144 in. (274.3 × 365.8 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through a gift from Evelyn A. and William B. Jaffe, Class of 1964H, by exchange

Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York Photo Credit: Tom Powel Imaging © Julie Mehretu



Place Made: Ethiopia, Eastern Africa, Africa


21st century

Object Name


Research Area


Not on view


Julie Mehretu’s work could be described as "socially engaged abstraction." That is, her painting style combines multiple systems of mark making, ranging from gestural, nonobjective, expressive brushwork to finely drafted transcriptions of architectural plans (themselves abstract distillations of material reality). While Mehretu’s work addresses formal issues of modern art—color, form, line, texture, shape, volume, and edges, for example—she also confronts more worldly concerns such as immigration, war, famine, and the changing climate.

In Iridium Over Aleppo, Mehretu generates tension between the carefully planned realm of architectural drawings, visible in the background, and the explosive marks that dominate the subsequent strata of the work. Each layer adds significantly to the ways we experience the painting—some obscure, some obvious. The base derives from a relatively recent photograph from the Syrian civil war, enlarged to the point where only vague shapes emerge from the arrangement of gray printing dots. Mehretu has carefully rendered details of historical buildings from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs. We see the passage from one state to another, from structure to pandemonium, but by merging the story into a singular painting, she collapses time.

Mehretu was born in Ethiopia and raised in Michigan. Her work, the subject of several book-length studies, is represented in the collections of major museums around the world.

From the 2019 exhibition Global Contemporary: A Focus on Africa, curated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Curator of African Art


Julie Mehretu’s labor-intensive process draws on a wide array of sources, from city maps, architectural drawings, and signage to found or historical photographs. It results in dynamic paintings that address formal issues of color, form, line, texture, and volume while also confronting worldly concerns such as migration, geopolitics, and history.

The underlying grid in Iridium over Aleppo references the urban architecture of what was Syria’s largest city before the ongoing civil war began in 2011. Over this grid, derived from a wartime photograph of Aleppo, Mehretu layers radiating marks, or "characters" as she calls them, both revealing and obscuring the numerous strata of the composition. Iridium over Aleppo, like much of her work, collapses any linear notion of time and space. As the artist elucidates, Mehretu strives to make "a picture that appears one way from a distance—almost like looking at a cosmology, city, or universe from afar—but when you approach the work, the overall image shatters into numerous other pictures, stories, and events."

From the 2021 exhibition Drawing Lines, curated by Jessica Hong, Associate Curator of Global Contemporary Art

Course History

WRIT 5, Representing Immigrants, Melissa Zeiger, Fall 2021

WRIT 5.31, Representing Immigrants, Melissa Zeiger, Fall 2021

SART 31/SART 72, Painting II/III, Colleen Randall, Spring 2022

Exhibition History

Drawing Lines, Dorothy and Churchill P. Lathrop Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire, July 10, 2021– September 4, 2022.

Global Contemporary: A Focus on Africa; Dorothy and Churchill Lathrop Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-December 8, 2019.

Publication History

John R. Stomberg, The Hood Now: Art and Inquiry at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2019, p. 222, ill. plate no. 153.


Commissioned through Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, New York; sold to present collection, 2018.

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