“Working with collage there is such a marvellous diversity of textures,” artist Maria Berrio enthuses. “Different sounds made as they are torn… I love the spreading of glue with sticky fingers, the stretching, the cutting. These collages are built layer by layer forming the topographical features upon the canvas.”
It was this tactile, hands-on creative process that first drew Maria to collage as her medium of choice over a decade ago. Painstakingly slow to create and imbued with the innate power of women, Maria’s work takes on an almost visceral effect. It is hard, as the viewer, to not have a deep response to the women and scenes her layer upon layer of torn paper create. “My work isn’t autobiographical,” Maria, who hails from Colombia explains. “But I do paint idealised parts of myself in the women I create. These are women I want to be: in harmony with themselves and nature, strong, vulnerable, compassionate and courageous.”
Maria’s Colombian heritage plays a large role in her work, which is laced with themes of South American mythology and folklore. For her, exploring this side of her heritage has “served to unravel the mysteries of our world whilst simultaneously deepening it further.” Maria likens this to the larger impact of art on the viewer, “When exposed to great art, it often seems to me as if some deep truth is being revealed, yet I can’t always grasp what it is with my mind, only feel it.”
Naturally, then, Maria’s work though threaded with themes of women and Latin American folklore, is often deeply personal and Maria comes to identify deeply with her characters. “Of late I have been most haunted by a young girl from my piece Aluna, a girl laying her face and hands down upon what appears to be the body of a tiger. Aluna was inspired by a practice of Kogi people in Colombia. After birth, a newborn who has been determined to become a shaman is brought into a cave to remain there for nine years. During that time the child is trained to become in touch with the inner world until they are brought outside to view the world they have only had described to them. I pictured this girl in Aluna as having been brought out from the cave only to the confusion and heartbreak of a world flooded by chaos."
Symbolism and most pertinently the symbolic use of animals are prolific in Maria’s work, “Animals have different responsibilities dependent on the painting,” she tells us. “Sometimes they symbolise a different feeling or idea in a way a human figure cannot. Sometimes they set or enhance a tone. Most often they aid in creating a story.” These stories are not always personal, “By placing a human figure in some sort of dialogue with an animal, I am harking back to our past equality with the natural world,” she muses. “That world has long ago been eclipsed by an era where modernity, advanced capitalism and the billows of pollution have disrupted the fragile ecosystem we have come to dominate rather than peacefully being part of.”
Fusing the political with the personal is thus of key importance to Maria in her collages, “I feel a responsibility too to my community — both Latin Americans and artists. I would like for my paintings to reveal that being Latina is more than being an issue over immigration, that there is a prism of culture and humanity that is often glossed-over, if not neglected completely.”
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