Inside Taller Puertorriqueño’s gallery, eight large-scale works cover much of the dark walls. In the center of the room is The Jungle, an installation crafted with 2,000 paper cuttings in distinctive patterns resembling vines that grow dense like the foliage of the Amazon rain forest and Peruvian mythological creatures.
Visitor Nikki Feagin said her reaction to Henry Bermudez’s art and the intimacy created by the gallery’s cold, dim lights gave her goose bumps.
Feagin, 40, said she felt a combination of sadness and hope, looking at American Girl Getting Ready for 4th of July Parade. The piece spoke to her, she said, about the exclusion of people of color in July Fourth traditions, and how marginalized people also have the right to celebrate patriotism.
“It’s the sorrow look in this girl’s eyes, wearing her hair of roses in bright U.S. flag colors, what makes you feel like she’s been in the shadows for so long, that she doesn’t even find herself celebrating,” she said of the piece, created with paper cuttings, acrylic paint, and glitter.
Feagin was one of about 100 people who visited Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philly for the opening reception this month of Wilderness in Mind, a show featuring work Venezuelan artist Henry Bermudez has been creating since he came to Philadelphia 16 years ago.
It’s his first solo exhibit at Taller Puertorriqueño, capturing the artistic evolution that Bermudez has experienced since he moved from Venezuela to Miami in 2003. His art reflects his fondness and appreciation of nature and religious deities from around the Americas. His most recent work has become more political, addressing race, beauty, climate change, and immigration.
“There is a conversation here about needing or wanting to be included, and having these arbitrary barriers being thrown at us," Feagin said. "This exhibit invites you to find where you fall into this kind of collectiveness.”
Bermudez’s techniques for creating art juxtapose paper cuttings adorned with acrylic paint, glitter, and charcoal sketchings. His work is on drawings, paintings, and installations.
During his time in Philadelphia, the 68-year-old has flourished as a muralist, curator, and art instructor. His eight years as an art teacher at the Career and Academic Development Institute — a high school dedicated to supporting youth ages 16 to 21 who are experiencing challenges such as homelessness, prior incarceration, and parenting — has helped frame the vision for his art.
He said his work looks to “stick the finger in the sore spot” of his life experiences from South America to the United States.
“It’s about connecting and transitioning to Philadelphia, as I’m an artist of the people, of popular culture, and wish I can keep reinventing myself in ways that no one will ever consider my work as intellectual,” said Bermudez, who is also an instructor at the Fleisher Art Memorial.
David Acosta, artistic director for Casa de Duende — an art house dedicated to socially relevant work — said Bermudez’s themes remain thought-provoking but the artist is transitioning into 3D sculpturing. “It’s impressive to see how he evolves from the flat structures to the large-scale 3D use of paper and cardboard, while playing with such a naive element like glitter.”
Visitor Miles Rittmaster, 65, said The Rainmaker’s Dance was his favorite at the gallery. He said the piece pays homage to the Andean God of Rain and prompts conversations about a Western Hemisphere without borders and the effects of climate change.
“It grounds us on what it’s like to be American, in the sense of being part of the continent, as opposed to looking at where we were brought from or where our families came from.”
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until April 25, at Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600 N. 5th Street. The exhibit is free.