A towering female figure with a hulking jaguar casually draped over her shoulders emerges in Born Again
(2015), the central piece of Berrio’s show, “The Harmony of the Spheres
,” up now at Praxis Gallery
in Chelsea. This heroine is anointed with a headdress made from blossoms and a dress that appears to be woven from the surrounding vegetation. Three children, one with an immense halo, throng her, and she offers a tiny songbird in one extended hand. The central figure, Berrio explains, is one of the many “strong women capable of living in the jungle, capable of showing their beauty, and connected to nature, to the animal world, to everything.”
Berrio’s muses are inspired in large part by South American folklore and mythology, in which women—like Colombia’s MadreMonte (mother mountain, or mother of the forest)—hold sway over the lands that surround them. Approaching the works, one comes to realize that each blade of grass or swatch of fur has been rendered from tiny paper cut-outs, pieced seamlessly together. Berrio’s medium of choice is Japanese rice paper. Hundreds of rolls, in all patterns and colors, are gathered together in buckets, scattered around her studio. The paper is so thin that when it’s applied to canvas with glue, each individual bit blends with whatever is next to it. The impression is of a tapestry woven so tightly that edges align without revealing so much as a stitch. And as fragments of pattern come together, to form a leaf or a collar, Berrio’s human muses coalesce and become one with their natural surroundings.