Populated predominantly by women, Berrío’s art often appears to propose spaces of refuge or safety, kaleidoscopic utopias which in the past have been inspired in part by South American folklore, where humans and nature coexist in harmony. To these apparently idealised scenes, however, Berrío brings to light the hard realities of present-day politics. For example, Oda a la Esperanza (Ode to Hope), 2019, in which girls appear captive within an institution-like environment, refers to the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Wildflowers, 2017, which depicts numerous women, children and animals has at its centre a railway carriage that might equally refer to the New York City subway or the train known as La Bestia, which transports migrants across Mexico to the US border. Writing in the catalogue for the New Orleans Triennial Prospect. 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, where the work was shown in 2017–2018, Alexandra Giniger comments that ‘In her canvases, animals, though plentiful, take a secondary role to women, who dominate en masse. The message may be that we, as humans, must task ourselves ever more staunchly with protecting one another through these swampy times.’
Speaking about the women that feature in her work, the artist says 'They are embodied ideals of femininity. The ghostly pallor of their skin suggests an otherworldliness; they appear to be more spirit that flesh. These are the women I want to be: strong, vulnerable, compassionate, courageous, and in harmony with themselves and nature. They combine the elements of women who are typically thought of as powerful – the captains of industry, resolute politicians, fiery activists – with the traits of those who are not usually thought of as such, thereby underlining the common force found in all women. The female soldier fighting on the front lines is of interest, but so too is the mother who finds a way to feed her children and sing them to sleep amid bombing campaigns and in the ruins of cities. To truly ennoble womanhood, we must discover and appreciate the beauty in every action, big or small.' (Georgia Review, Spring 2019).
An enduring interest in the human relationship with nature can be seen in a new series of figures, which the artist calls ‘the bathers’. United by a simple garment – based on one of Berrío’s own dresses – the figures appear in moments of solemnity, acting upon or reacting to the natural world. The surreal environments they occupy offer an unsettling context for their otherwise ordinary activities, provoking viewers to reflect on their own connection to their surroundings and raising questions of resilience and persistence in the face of catastrophic loss. The primal ritual of bathing and the gestures that bracket it offer a moment of communion that reflects on our common experiences as social beings.
About the artist
María Berrío was born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1982, completed her BFA at Parsons School of Design in 2004, and her MFA at the New York School of Visual Arts.
The artist’s first survey show María Berrío: Esperando mientras la noche florece (Waiting for the Night to Bloom) was on view at The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach from January until May 2021. Her work recently featured in Women Painting Women, a thematic exhibition featuring 46 female artists who choose women as subject matter in their works, held at The Modern, Fort Worth, from May to September 2022; and in A Natural Turn, held at The DePaul Art Museum, Chicago (2022). Also in 2022, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami displayed recent acquisitions for the first time, including Berrío’s 2020 sculpture The Petition.
Recent institutional group exhibitions include Born in Flames: Feminist Futures, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, USA (2021); Labor: Motherhood & Art in 2020, University Art Museum at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, USA (2020); Present Tense: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA (2019); People Get Ready at Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC (2018), Prospect.4 Triennial, New Orleans (2017–2018), Art on Paper Biennial, Weatherspoon Museum, Greensboro, NC (2017), CUT N MIX, El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY (2015). Other important exhibitions include María Berrío: A Day’s Cadence, an extended reality (XR) exhibition on Vortic Collect, Victoria Miro, London, UK (2020); María Berrío, Caroline Walker, Flora Yukhnovich, Victoria Miro, London, UK (2019); A Cloud’s Roots, Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2019); In a Time of Drought, Praxis International Gallery, New York, NY, USA (2017); The Harmony of the Spheres, Praxis International Gallery, New York, NY, USA (2015).
Berrío’s work is in permanent collections such as Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Dallas Museum of Art, USA; LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA; Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago, USA; Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York, NY; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; Pérez Art Museum, Miami, FL, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; Weatherspoon Museum of Art at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China.
The artist’s work is currently included in a solo exhibition of new and existing works, The Children’s Crusade, on view at ICA Boston until 6 August 2023, as well as in the group show Spirit in the Land on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University until 9 July 2023.
Additionally, her work can also be seen in the public realm at the N subway stop at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, where 14 of the artist’s works have been translated in mosaic using a variety of media including glass, ceramic and enamel.