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Bell Gallery at Brown University Presents “Fertile Ground” with Work by Maria Berrio, Zoe Charlton, Joiri Minaya

The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University is presenting Fertile Ground, an exhibition of work by María Berrío, Zoë Charlton and Joiri Minaya. The artists’ multimedia collages vividly depict bodies enveloped by nature, juxtaposing the cultivated garden with the wild and the real with the surreal. While the artists’ practices and perspectives are unique, they each engage with issues of culture, identity, power, ownership and freedom.

On view August 31 through November 3, 2019, Fertile Ground presents aesthetically and conceptually layered works to explore the relationship between the body and landscape and challenge romantic tropes with powerful personal, cultural and political narratives.

Berrío, Charlton and Minaya all reference the land where they grew up—Bogotá, Colombia; Tallahassee, Florida; and the Dominican Republic, respectively—to examine a gendered personification of nature and historic conquest and colonization of societies and the natural landscape. The use of mixed media is also significant to each artist as a way of making and a way of seeing by layering, attaching, ripping, wrapping and building. Their studies of complex issues reveal contradiction, artifice and disjuncture.

Guest curator and Brown adjunct lecturer Heather Bhandari, said, “These artists illuminate complicated narratives by exposing power dynamics, contesting ownership and reclaiming body and land. None of the works present a clear and tidy outcome. Rather, they relay an emotional, visceral, messy and ongoing struggle in a quest for acknowledgment and self-determination.”

Influenced by surrealism, folklore and magical realism, María Berrío’s vibrant, large-scale collages on canvas are created from layers of handmade papers sourced from a variety of countries and painted with watercolor. Richly textured and detailed in a lush palette, they depict narratives that blur biographical memory from her childhood living in the countryside with myths and present-day societal challenges. The three collages in the exhibition feature female figures—dynamic guiding spirits—in harmony with nature. They are surrounded by fauna—owls, parrots, mountain goats—and symbols from a variety of cultures that have personal and global meanings.

Zoë Charlton combines hundreds of stickers, pieces of cut paper, found materials and gouache to create epic narratives. Towering over viewers, three renderings in the exhibition depict life-size humans seeming to struggle with nature, the viewer and themselves. Their nakedness is confrontational and direct, but they are not grounded on land. Natural elements including birds, animals and plant life envelop them, swirling energetically from their bodies and concealing their identities. The energy with which the vines, birds and trees burst from and around the figures is simultaneously violent, cathartic, and empowering.
Through video, photography, installation and performance, Joiri Minaya layers materials and meaning to present women’s relationship to landscape—specifically Caribbean women—as a constructed perpetuation of colonial influence. In her Container series (2015‒17), she freezes female figures in postures she finds in on-line searches for “Dominican women,” wraps them in tropical-printed spandex bodysuits, places them in resorts, gardens and refurbished beach settings and photographs them. Everything is artificial. In her Spandex Installations (2019), she stretches the fabric around a structure akin to a beach cabana. Inside, the viewer is invited to lounge in a beach chair and watch videos related to the Caribbean tourist industry including Labadee (2017) documenting a private, cruise ship port and resort in Haiti leased by Royal Caribbean and fenced off from the rest of the village surrounding it.

About David Winton Bell Gallery
The David Winton Bell Gallery, a program of the Brown Arts Initiative, is Brown University’s contemporary art gallery and home to an important part of the University’s permanent art collection. The Gallery hosts four to five exhibitions each year with an emphasis on contemporary works by artists who address important issues of our time.

Broadly concerned with the presentation of exemplary work by artists living today, the Gallery takes pride in showing artwork irrespective of media, content or subject and makes special efforts to support and show the work of emerging or under-recognized practitioners. Alongside the contemporary arts, the Gallery also makes use of its art historical collections, programming exhibitions on the arts and culture of the last five centuries. The Gallery maintains a permanent collection of more than 6,000 works of art, dating from the 16th century to the present, with particularly rich holdings in contemporary art and works on paper.

Founded in 1971, the Gallery is named in memory of David Winton Bell, a member of the Brown University class of 1954. It is housed in the Albert and Vera List Art Building designed by internationally renowned architect Philip Johnson, that also includes classrooms, lecture halls and extensive studio space. Free and open to the public, the Gallery is open Monday–Wednesday and Friday 11 am–4 pm; Thursday 1–9 pm; and Saturday and Sunday 1–4 pm, and is located at 64 College Street in Providence, RI.


María Berrío. Untitled, 2014. Collage with Japanese papers and watercolor. 24 x 40 inches. Courtesy the artist.