Lía Bermúdez – AKALIA

By Amalia Caputo

Artist Lía Bermúdez presents her second solo exhibition at Art Nouveau Gallery with twenty works reunited under the name of Akalia [loosely meaning “time” in the Wayuu language of the Guajira peninsula of northwest Venezuela], a compendium of sculptures and wall pieces that continue to underscore the identity of one of the most iconic women artists in her native Venezuela and Latin America. Her career as a sculptor has evolved within the geometric abstraction tradition and the occupation of space. In that vein, Akalia includes archetypical small- and medium-sized works representative of the formal paths she has taken with the medium since her early stages in 1950’s. Through new creations, such as Tuitui [“Hawk”] (2017), and new revisions of past works, such as Relieve Mariposa [“Butterfly Bas Relief”] (2016) and Sawarala [“Reflection”] (2016), the works in view reveal shapes and processes that have been hallmarks of her studio practice, delving into her keen interest in exploring the problem of sculpture’s spatial integration with architecture. Over a career spanning more than 40 years, Bermúdez has examined many formal and poetic elements that are key to art today, including the embrace of certain materials and shapes within abstraction, but most importantly, exploring the concept that art is not pure form, and, as such, has a duty to influence and alter the viewer’s life. Bermúdez recognizes the importance of art’s integral imbrication with architecture and displays concern with its social aspects, concepts that determined how she ultimately expressed her voice through the expansion of sculpture via spatial interventions. Bermúdez has mastered works from the monumental to the jewel-sized in scale, all with the same fluidity. Each piece invariably begins as a drawing but quickly shifts into a tri-dimensional volume that dictates the need for a specific scale. Given that Bermúdez conceives her sculptures as environments, her most iconic works are, not surprisingly, large format installations, implemented as site-specific sculptures that enhance buildings and public spaces throughout Venezuela, making her repertoire of urban and public works one of the largest in the country. Throughout her career, she has also produced works conceived for interior and domestic environs, probing through them the dynamic, emotive tension between the spaces and planes they occupy, their light and movement, their force and resistance, all ever-present themes in her oeuvre. Formally speaking, Bermúdez has consistently approached her practice in constants without depriving herself of experimentation and shifts in color, formats and materials. For instance, she has traditionally gravitated towards iron as her preferred raw material, yet has experimented with other surfaces and textures such as aluminum, bronze, etc. She has also cultivated the use of bold primary colors but has delved into secondary hues and bare metals and the combination of both as well. One of the most interesting facets of her work, a by-product of living in Maracaibo most of her life, is how her work has been permeated with many of the important features of the region, with influences from the indigenous Wayuu tribe in particular, which she honors by naming many of her sculptures in their native vernacular. Such is the case for the grandiose volume at the entrance, Achjiráa [“Awakening”] (2015) and medium format wall pieces such as Maiitta [“Calmed times”], Wawaii [“Breeze”], Winn [“Water”] and Siruma [“Sky”], all characterized formally by the use of abstraction and repetition, employing strategies such as stacking, hanging, and intertwining forms and shapes, in order to create a visual tension in space that prompts a spatial connection with the viewer. The works comprised here also evidence her enigmatic yet formal interest in nature – anatomical as well as vegetable shapes – as abstract, imagined structures that carry a strong sense of interest in the kinetic effect that the materials provide through stacking, cutting, overlapping, building, all evoking the emergence of a new life form, through works that are suspended, hung or mounted on pedestals. In addition, the names of the pieces are usually connected to elements of nature –another connection to her habitat – in which abstract nerved wings, oversized leaves, anatomical animal shapes and oversized butterflies comprise her poetic imagery, reminiscent of the lavish and opulent tropics that influence her sculptures and wall pieces. In Venezuela, in addition to Bermúdez, other women artists such as Gego [Gertrude Goldschmidt], Mercedes Pardo, Elsa Gramko, Luisa Richter, have attempted, through diverse strategies, to alter the notion of abstraction’s many forms, turning away from a dominant masculine language and articulating their own sensibility and experience in their work. In this regard, we perceive Bermudez’s own work as gravitating towards the purity of abstraction yet at the same time attempting to connect with the visual intention of movement, fragility, strength and rhythm, built upon a tacit game of forces and tensions intimately hinged to biology’s structures and natural patterns. Lía Bermúdez, an artist, mother, educator and cultural promoter whose life has coincided with all major artistic movements and events of the twentieth century, has remained true to a vision of her artwork, connected to abstractionism yet not adhering herself to any movement in particular. She devotes her life to making art, but also worked tirelessly at building a cultural landscape in her adoptive city of Maracaibo, all while forming a family of her own. Her life and work are epitomes of a contemporary woman articulating feminine sensibility and experience in her work. Yet it has been in her studio practice where Bermúdez has unified all fragments of her life through art, asserting her own content into formal geometries, to become an artist that is a living legacy in both Venezuela and the rest of the world.