Living with the Land: Maria Berrio in “Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp”

Ann Hackett contemplates the relationship between humankind and nature in Maria Berrio’s collages, recently on view as part of “Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp.”

Maria Berrio, Wildflowers, 2017. Collage with Japanese papers and watercolor. Courtesy the artist and Praxis Gallery, New York.

Girls replace their arms with feathered wings. A women cradles a seething stream in her arms as she would a child. Wildflowers spring from human skin just as they carpet a lush, green mountain valley. Butterflies grow from scalps in place of hair. These are only a few of the fantasies that dot Maria Berrio’s three collages for “Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp,” recently on view at the Contemporary Arts Center.

Berrio is a collector of paper, sourcing it from Japan, Korea, and Mexico. She builds her collages by laying down layers on top of each other and allowing her materials to help dictate the composition. Amid landscapes of colorful cut paper, Berrio's human figures—women and children, the artist rarely portrays men—are painted with watercolor details and often stare out of the composition, confronting viewers head on.

Berrio, born in Bogotá, Colombia, and living in New York, often locates her work in the Colombian jungle. In Aluna, 2017, she depicts a practice of the Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in which children destined to become priests live for nine years in a cave to strengthen their connection with the natural world before entering the sunlight.

In Wildflowers, 2017, Berrio created her own mythos in response to present-day politics with a train emerging from the forested face of a mountain ruled over by the Incan god Urcuchillay, protector of animals. The train car carries monkeys, tigers, and parrots alongside immigrants to a new world where they will be safe from the adversities they face in our current reality.

In Southeast Louisiana, many have struggled against the natural environment for a long time, building levees to protect us from the Mississippi River and the swamps, marshes, and estuaries that line the Gulf Coast. Berrio imagines a world where humans are not at odds with, but integrated into, nature on a biological and spiritual level.

Editor's Note

Works by Maria Berrio were on view November 18, 2017–February 25, 2018, at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp Street) in New Orleans as part of “Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp.”