In the Studio: María Berrío

María Berrío in her studio in Brooklyn. Photo by Kyle Dorosz.

María Berrío is a Brooklyn-based visual artist and a 2021 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Fellowship. We interviewed her about her work and creative practice in July 2022. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

I create large-scale paintings with Japanese papers. Many of my works are inspired by South American folklore and history, or by mythologies from around the world, and with these inspirations I create fictional worlds that blend current political and social situations.

My work is grounded in storytelling. I create these imaginary tales that have to do with, say, human migration, feminism, or ecological disasters, and present them from a surrealistic point of view.

María Berrío, A Sunburst Restrained, 2019. Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor paint, 60 x 72 inches. © María Berrío. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

Much of my work attempts to recreate images and scenes from my own past, faded now by the distance of time and space. Memories are filled in with imagined details, seen through the lens of magical realism. Drawing from my own experience of migration, I depict figures displaced by unknown and powerful forces. We encounter them preparing for their travels, in moments of transition, and arriving on uncertain shores. These works look beyond the contingent circumstances of the migrant’s journey to examine how a person recreates themselves through the process of journeying. Employing symbols that have significance for many cultures around the globe, the works speak differently to different audiences, inviting a wide range of interpretive possibilities.

Materials in María Berrío’s studio. Left photo by Bruce White, right photo by Jen Steele.

The women who inhabit my collages express an empowered femininity. They combine features of those who are conventionally thought to be powerful—businesswomen, resolute politicians, fiery activists—with features of those who are not usually thought of as such, underscoring a force common to all women. As hybrid figures, they comprise multiple overlapping identities and ways of being at once.

María Berrío, The Nightingale I, 2017. Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor paint, 60 x 48 inches. © María Berrío. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

The most recent body of work that I created, which will be exhibited at the ICA Boston in February, is titled The Children's Crusade. It blends the history of the 12th century Children's Crusade with current migratory journeys in the Mediterranean and along the US border. The main focus and the main characters are children and their perceptions as seen through fantasy and magical realism.

María Berrío, Cavalry, 2022. Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor paint, 72 x 90 inches. © María Berrío. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

This September I will have a solo exhibition at Victoria Miro in Venice (September 17– October 29, 2022) with a new body of work titled The Land of the Sun in which I created a fictional world that narrates the journey of a woman who escapes an apocalyptic world.

Interview and editing by Jenny Gill. Learn more about María Berrío’s work here.

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