Above: Looking Back to a Bright Future by Julie Mehretu
The Detroit Institute of Arts’ newest “Guest of Honor” is a 2003 painting by African-born artist Julie Mehretu entitled “Looking Back to a Bright New Future,” on loan from a private collection for approximately two years. Visitors can view the painting in the second-floor contemporary art galleries.
This Guest of Honor is the first in a series of loans highlighting the work of artists from diverse backgrounds, part of the DIA’s “Reflecting Our Community” initiative that aims to have the museum’s attendance mirror the region’s racial and ethnic demographics by 2020. Future loans include works by Robert Duncanson, Archibald Motley, Henry Ossawa Tanner and contemporary artist Sanford Biggers.
Mehretu has long been interested in the legacy of modernist visionary architecture, and “Looking Back to a Bright New Future” evokes a sense of speed, dynamism, struggle and potential associated with the early-20th-century utopian promise of a better future. This painting highlights the idealism of new urban planning in postcolonial Africa. Drawings resemble schematic maps of planned neighborhoods. Atlas markings of dots refer to economic centers, and colorful irregular shapes suggest countries in Africa. The density of imagery implies the range and complexity of issues facing African nations competing for a brighter future in the global economy.
“Mehretu’s rich personal history—she emigrated from Ethiopia to Michigan with her parents at age seven—is reflected in her work,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “Artists from diverse backgrounds tell stories that are often not highlighted in traditional art museums, and we are committed to elevating these stories and sharing them with all of our visitors.”
In 2007 the DIA hosted an exhibition of Mehretu’s work called “City Sitings,” the inaugural exhibition of the museum’s grand reopening following a six-year renovation and gallery reinstallation project.