María Berrío. The Conference of the Sparrows, 2023. Japanese paper and watercolor on linen. 90 1/2 × 79 inches (229.9 × 200.7 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Jeffrey Magid, and Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté.
New York-based artist María Berrío crafts her large-scale, watercolor paintings through a meticulous process of collaging and painting torn pieces of Japanese paper. The Conference of the Sparrows is part of Berrío’s most recent series, The Children’s Crusade, which blends the history of the Children’s Crusade of 1212 CE with the contemporary mass movement of peoples across borders. Berrío frames her series as a fictional tale, with each painting and its descriptive text serving as a scene from an unfolding story. In The Conference of the Sparrows, a family appears on a boat in a vast expanse of dappled water. As in many of Berrío’s works, this painting merges recognizable and iconic imagery with flights of imagination and fantasy. The blue wooden boat resembles those used by many migrants crossing the Mediterranean, its hull filled with domestic items, foodstuff, and figural details. These realistic elements merge with the otherworldly, including a nude, winged central figure that appears like an angel or a ship’s figurehead, hovering over a plastic bucket and conjuring safe passage. About this work, the artist writes: “To make the crossing required as much hope and courage as it did desperation, or nearly so. But the children had been assured that their gods would look over them. Their faith in a better world to come would protect them.”