During her first visit to the Twin Cities in February 2001, Julie Mehretu immediately noticed the sizeable population of East Africans in the metropolitan area. Of Ethiopian descent herself and familiar with the complex histories of the region, she was curious about how these new immigrants were adjusting to life in the American Midwest. For her residency, she wanted to create a project that would be specific to Minneapolis and St. Paul, yet relate to her own practice and concerns as a painter: identity, personal and cultural history, geography, and personal narrative. After much research and in consultation with her brother, David Mehretu, an urban planner, she designed Minneapolis and St. Paul Are East African Cities
, a self-ethnography project for thirty East African teenagers at Edison and Roosevelt high schools in Minneapolis.
She armed each participant, most of Somali, Eritrean, or Ethiopian heritage, with two disposable cameras, a small digital audio recorder, a notebook, and a map of the Twin Cities, and asked them to document their lives over a two-week period. Opening a delicate window on their personal stories, they recorded daily activities at the dinner table, on the soccer field, at the local African supermarket, and at the mall. Using both pictures and sound, they created rich and compelling tapestries that explore themes of family history, social and political upheaval, the individual and community in urban space, and the mapping of the self within the larger whole. . . .
“I am interested in the multifaceted layers of place, space, and time that impact the formation of personal and communal identity.”–Julie Mehretu