María Berrío paintings at ICA Boston

On February 16, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) opens María Berrío: The Children’s Crusade—the first time this major new series of paintings have been shown together in a museum exhibition. Based in New York, María Berrío (born 1982 in Bogotá, Colombia) crafts her large-scale paintings through a unique and meticulous process of collaging torn pieces of Japanese paper on canvas. Using these thin layers of colorful paper like a palette of paint, she then applies watercolor to complete her riveting, magical scenes that speak to urgent real-world issues, including migration and the life experiences of women and children. Organized by Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Senior Curator, María Berrío: The Children’s Crusade will be on view through August 6.

“Pressed by contemporary social and political realities, María locates her sources of inspiration in poetry, folklore, and the realms of magic to imagine alternative views of present-day truths, especially those faced by migrants, women, and children,” Erickson said. “Her large-scale works reflect on cross-cultural connections and global migration, and we’re honored the ICA is presenting her work in Boston for the first time.”

Energized by the contact point between reality and magic, Maria Berrío paintings frame her series as fictional stories, with each painting serving as a scene from an unfolding and otherworldly tale, accompanied by a descriptive text. She blends draftsmanship and drawing with meticulous collage and painting, creating a distinctive visual language for her narrative, figurative art.

This important series of new Maria Berrio paintings—many created especially for this exhibition—blend the history of the thirteenth-century Children’s Crusade with the current mass migrations of peoples across the Mediterranean and the U.S. border. While the actual events of the Children’s Crusade continue to be a subject of debate among historians, legends of miracles and tragedies have inspired an abundance of stories, songs, and artwork over centuries.

Speaking about the new series, the artist says: “The main focus and the main characters are children and their perceptions as seen through fantasy and magical realism. As the children embark on this arduous journey, they infuse the ordinary with the mythic, as their innocent and imagined interpretation of the world bumps against stark realities. The darker and more bleak aspects of these travels are depicted through the naivete, humanity, love, and wonder of a child’s eyes.”

Maria Berrío paintings draw inspiration from diverse sources to reflect on the contemporary realities facing migrants and unaccompanied minors today. For example: Ozymandias (2022) is based on the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelly and shows a child (the artist’s son) lying on his back with eyes closed, tracing an arc in the sand; Under Thatch and Autumn Star (2022) is inspired by the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and depicts three children in bed who are left behind, and the troubled sleep that would haunt them; and Calvary (2022) is of children riding a carousel, a poignant symbol of the often-endless journey children experience during migration. Other forthcoming works reimagine the child migrant through such figures as birds and human-animal hybrids and meditate on issues of flight, freedom, control, and protection.

“As a storyteller, creating the character knowing this character doesn’t exist anywhere else but in the picture makes for a better story. I find it so much more interesting to create characters not knowing who they are entirely,” Berrío said. “Throughout my career, I’ve acknowledged the responsibility of making these works and the importance of a story. For me, the end result is when there is a moment of silence when you connect to the artwork and when you can feel something.”

Related Programming

Gallery Talk: María Berrío
Sunday, March 5, 2 pm
Free with museum admission
Join the artist and curator for a conversation about María Berrío: The Children’s Crusade.

About the Artist

María Berrío was born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1982, and she completed her BFA at Parsons School of Design and her MFA at the School of Visual Arts, both New York, NY. The artist’s first survey 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 and was accompanied by the artist’s first monograph. 

Berrío’s work is part of numerous permanent collections, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Dallas Museum of Art; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China, among others.

About the ICA

Since its founding in 1936, the ICA has shared the pleasures of reflection, inspiration, imagination, and provocation that contemporary art offers with its audiences. A museum at the intersection of contemporary art and civic life, the ICA has advanced a bold vision for amplifying the artist’s voice and expanding the museum’s role as educator, incubator, and convener. Its exhibitions, performances, and educational programs provide access to the breadth and diversity of contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas.

The ICA is located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA, 02210. The Watershed is located at 256 Marginal Street, East Boston, MA 02128. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our website at icaboston.org. Follow the ICA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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