“Being a mom turned me into an octopus,” says artist Lili Bernard who is the mother of five boys and one girl ranging in age from nine years old though college. “I am known for having my kids with me at my art shows.”
Bernard’s work is colorful and deeply emotional. It reflects the many themes she explores in her art and life from motherhood to racism and sexism. She is the founder of BAILA (Black Artists in Los Angeles, an organized group that she formed to advocate to advance the careers of black artists.
Bernard believes all six of her children inherited art making abilities from her, as she feels she did from her dad and grandfather. Her son Isaiah Ferguson is an animator had been getting attention for his animated films including being invited to meet President Obama at the White House Student Film Festival. “His work is so beautiful. I am so proud of him. All of my children are my best teachers. They are mirrors. My kids’ art is so pure and whole,” says Bernard.
Visions of pregnant women are a frequent motif in Bernard’s work. “What I am trying to show in my paintings of pregnant women is that being pregnant is not a handicap, it is just a different state of being where you can be just as prolific and powerful and industrious. I have known many women who work right up to giving birth,” says Bernard.
Bernard’s kids are also known to help in the studio and inspire their prolific mother. “My kids help me make my art. Help me glue things down when I am making mixed media pieces,” says Bernard. “They are also my best critics. They have a great eye and give me honest straight from the hip responses.”
At her recent exhibition, “Antebellum Appropriations” at MoAD in San Francisco, Bernard showed her detailed muralistic visions that re-imagined classical European paintings into slave narratives. “I believe that part of the reason why I am such a prolific artist is because of my children,” says Bernard. “They inspire me towards creativity. I also want to leave a legacy behind so that when I pass, they will have a good collection of my work to make some money.”
Giving birth six times has deepened Bernard’s commitment to living life with a feminist perspective. “I have always viewed pregnancy and childbirth as one of the most feminist expressions,” says Bernard. “You are bringing into this world, life. You have the opportunity through the rearing of your children to raise feminists, even a greater accomplishment when your child is a male.”
CURRENT GROUP EXHIBITION, Viva La Vulva, Ren Gallery, 743 S. Santee St. Unit B, Los Angeles, CA 90014. Show runs through April, 21, 2018. Curator: Gallerist Rene Warren. Artists: Leslie Reed, Lili Bernard, Joanna Cassidy, Edvarda Braanaas, Tanya Ragir, Karen Petty, Aurélia Bizouard and Amanda Sage
Excerpt from Recent Review on Show in Artillery Magazine:
Group Show at REN Gallery
Sounding heavy, presented by artists Leslie Reed, Lili Bernard, Joanna Cassidy, Edvarda Braanaas, Tanya Ragir, Karen Petty, Aurélia Bizouard and Amanda Sage honored physiological processes women experience, the mythological narratives that capture histories and the ineviablity of physical and emotional decay. We were greeted with the feminine spirit at the gallery entrance by Bernard with her live painting, Ochun as My Bisabuela Clemencia Falls to Her Death, portraying indigenous Afro-Cuban folklore of the deity Oshun.
(Photo featured in Artillery Magazine review of my work-in-progress, live-painting during opening.)
OTHER CURRENT GROUP EXHIBITION: Black Dreams Matter, curated by gallerist Lisa Schultz, at Whole 9 Gallery, 3830 Main Street, Culver City, CA 90232. Show runs through April 3, 2018. This is my work in the show:
OTHER CURRENT GROUP EXHIBITION: Creative Souls, Watts Towers Arts Center, 1727 East 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90002. Curated by Paul Von Blum in celebration of his recently published book of the same title.
My work in the show:
Lili Bernard. Self Portrait Tortured, 2012. Wood, rope, canvas, paint bush, metal screw, acrylic paint, 31″x28″x5″
Lili Bernard. Maceo y Martí: La Mejorana, 2017. Oil on Canvas, 28″ x 44″
REVIEW on my new painting, BALSEROS, in recent group art exhibition:
South of the Border, a PST Getty Initiative group art show on the topic of immigration. At Loft at Liz’s through February 1, 2018. Curated by Isabel Rojos-Williams.
December 7, 2017
Author Genie Davis
One powerful piece, “Ache Balseros,” comes from artist Lili Bernard. The encompassing oil on canvas work depicts the raft crisis of 1994, when Castro allowed residents of Cuba to leave the island. Cuba was Bernard’s birthplace. “As usual, I’ve codified the painting with symbolism pertaining to the Orishas, Yoruba deity,” Bernard relates. “Some fellow Cuban immigrants who were at the opening told me that they cried when they saw my painting. I cried too as I was making it. Though my family’s departure from the island was dramatic, we left when I was a toddler, we did not leave by raft; we left by plane.” But, she adds “I do however know some fellow Cubans who left the island by raft – they call these people Balseros. They told me how they were literally fighting, punching sharks on the way. Many Balseros suffered dehydration and become delirious and sick from it. Many died from it, got lost or eaten by sharks. Several Balseros with whom I’ve spoken about surviving the trip, speak of the important role that the Orishas played in their survival – hence the homage to the Orishas in my painting.” Vibrant and packed with images that really require repeated viewings to absorb, the work is a passionate tribute to an event, a people, and a spiritual practice. Was such a fraught journey worth the destination?
REVIEW of my multimedia artwork, Self Portrait as Yemayá Under Attack, in recent group exhibition:
Static Clears the Air at Durden and Ray
by Genie Davis
Artists and Journalists exhibiting include: Lili Bernard, Jennifer Celio, Molly Crabapple, Dani Dodge, Jose Galvez, Emily Goulding, Kio Griffith, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Danial Nord, Sean Noyce, Max Presneill, Walter Robinson, Steven Wolkoff, and Samira Yamin.
Below, the lush, passionate self-portrait in mixed media by Lili Bernard. “Self Portrait as Yemaya Under Attack” uses sequins, acrylic paint, photos, pills, glitter, a section of nylon Afro-wig, ribbon, pipe cleaners, and costume jewelry among other mediums on canvas. Beset on all sides, the titular character may be slightly bowed, but she is unbroken. A gorgeous, powerful, commentary that takes on the voraciousness of our culture – and our news cycle.
Lili Bernard. Self Portrait as Yemaya Under Attack, 2017. Sequin, Acrylic Paint, Photographs, Pills, Glitter, Nylon Afro-Wig, Ribbon, Pipe Cleaners, Cork, False Eyelashes, Plastic Eyes and Costume Jewelry on Canvas, 48″x36″
RECENT GROUP EXHIBITION:
South of the Border, a PST Getty Initiative group art show on the topic of immigration. At Loft at Liz’s through February 1, 2018. Curated by Isabel Rojos-Williams. Featured artwork by the following 10 Latino/Latina artists: (alphabetically): Lili Bernard, Marisa Caichiolo, Pablo Cristi, Joel García, Maja, Poli Marichal, Andres Montoya, Sandy Rodriguez, and Votan.
The Loft at Liz’s
453 S. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 939-4403 ext. 5
Open Monday – Saturday 10am to 6pm
My artwork in the show:
REVIEW ON RECENT MUSEUM SOLO EXHIBITION at MUSEUM of the AFRICAN DIASPORA:
Write-up in SF Weekly by art critic Jonathan Curiel on my recent museum solo art exhibit, Antebellum Appropriations, at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, which ran from April 29 – June 25, 2017.
The plight of being an African American woman is the shared thread in the group show SWEET STICKY THINGS currently on view at LaunchLA gallery thru May 6. Lili Bernard, Zeal Harris and Loren Holland have distinct styles and conceptual concerns but share a compassion for and commiseration with what America sees as a second-class race and gender. Each artist, though, exalts the black female amidst these trials and tribulations, making SWEET STICKY THINGS part celebration, part verification.
The exhibit is more a showcase for each of the participants than it is a truly meshed group show. The artists have their own defined spaces in the gallery with no cross-pollination of sorts. The title of the show comes from Sweet Sticky Thing, a song by the 1970s funk group The Ohio Players. Famous for their music, a close second for the group was their infamous suggestive and erotic album covers. No trip to the record store was complete for young men of all ages without a perusal of the Ohio Players albums section. The show offers three different takes on femininity thru an African American point of reference.
Lauren Holland inserts black women in all their SWEET beauty and glory into landscapes that give a conceptual tweak to the Western (colonial) canon. One painting, The Bathers, takes its name from the four Cezanne masterpieces investigating that theme of nude women, isolated in a lake of pastoral splendor. Holland’s vision of the bathing beauties brings in a sad reality. Not only is there a voyeur in the shadows, but discarded binoculars indicate others have been gazing before. Amidst some detritus at the watering hole floats a Greek urn, reminding us that the cradle of the West based its culture heavily on the then long-established African culture. Just beneath the veneer of sweet figurative beauty, Holland challenges centuries of the dominance of the Eurocentric definition of beauty in her oil paintings that show the sweet gorgeousness of black women despite their vulnerability in the culture.
Lili Bernard infuses a STICKY combination of spirituality and satire into her offerings here (full disclosure: I have curated this artist into commerical shows). She is known widely for her paintings of Orishas, the saint-like pre-Christian gods worshipped in the Caribbean by African slaves. She expands on that theme with inventive sculptural altars to hair salons as well as a satirical advertisement for Orishas as natural hair products. But her calling card will always be her fantastic oils and she does not disappoint. This artist paints the battle for souls as a pictorial wrestling between a dragon and a saint in one picture. But the most moving image in the show is her portrait of Latasha Harlins as an Orisha. At the top of her halo is her name and the artist has lettered in “Say Her Name” at the bottom. Harlins was murdered by a convenience store cashier in 1991. In this painting she holds the bottle of orange juice the cashier insisted she was stealing. She gave her life for that orange juice and she carries it into eternity here.
Zeal Harris reminds us that there are THINGS with which African Americans must deal. Things that are best called burdens. Her outsider-styled drawings are belied by the sophisticated compositional rhythm of text passages woven throughout many of the works in this show. Digitally printed on a silk-like material, they tell dramatic stories of police shootings, relationship hurdles, and pining for a better world, all made more emotional by the mundane nature of these tragedies. That they appear to be so ordinary is what makes the subjects of Zeal’s stories so gripping. When the girlfriend tells her man the positives of them moving for a better job, he retorts “What’s the money gonna mean in Redneck, Arizona if you’re Sandra Bland and I’m El Chapo”. A man leaves his lover’s side not when it is time to go but when he is least likely to be pulled over. The artist “gets real” but on silk the work has a glistening presence – are these artworks also handkerchiefs in which to cry?
Most gallery exhibits have a homogenous quality passed off as an aesthetic. SWEET STICKY THINGS is a bold show about excess, about the diversity within a community, about belief, gender, and experience. Narrative painting too often seeks to spoon-feed viewers in the quest for a wider audience. These three artists give aesthetic investigation as much precedence as they do in elucidating their conceptual narratives. There is an inspiration in this show for a wider range of artists than just the storytellers.
SWEET STICKY THINGS continues at the LaunchLA Gallery thru May 6. Gallery is open TUE-SAT 12-6 PM – located at 170 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, California 90036.
An Artists Talk featuring all three artists and moderated by Naima Keith, California African American Museum deputy director of exhibits and programs is Saturday, April 15 at 4 PM, free admission.
REVIEWS OF RECENT GROUP ART EXHIBITIONS
My work in the show:
LILI BERNARD Interviewed on Modern Art Blitz – Host Art Critic Mat Gleason – June 6, 2016
First printed in 1902, the progressive ARTnews Magazine is “the oldest and most widely-circulated art magazine in the world.” I’m currently featured in their Spring 2016 “Icons Issue,” which is available for purchase on the magazine stands for $8. There are 5 icons in the cover-feature: Mary Heilmann, Faith Ringgold, Kerry James Marshal, Kenneth Anger and Lynda Benglis. I’m one of 16 Los Angeles-based artists featured in this issue in the article by editor-writer-photographgher, Katherine McMahon, entitled Habitat: LA. The 16 featured L.A. artists are myself, David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Diana Thater, Mary Weatherford, Jim Shaw, Henry Taylor, Thomas Houseago, Kaar Upson, Liz Larner, Amanda Ross-Ho, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Samara Golden, Lara Schnitger and Elad Lassry. Scroll down for an ARTnews.com online preview.
Habitat: Los Angeles
The opening layout of Habitat L.A. from the Spring 2016 issue of ARTnews. Clockwise from top left: David Hockney and his studio, Diana Thater and her studio, Ed Ruscha and his studio, Catherine Opie and her studio.
Los Angeles is all the rage at the moment. Last September, megacollector Eli Broad opened his $140 million private museum on Grand Avenue; the shiny Diller Scofidio + Renfro building is open free of charge and has had lines around the block. That same month, New York’s Maccarone gallery inaugurated a big space near L.A.’s downtown arts district with a show of Alex Hubbard. Berlin and London’s Sprüth Magers is expanding to Wilshire Boulevard, across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And March brings the big kahuna: Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, a new branch of the London-, Somerset-, New York-, and Zurich-based Hauser & Wirth gallery, will open downtown in a converted flour mill. At 100,000 square feet, it’s on the scale of a museum.
For our Icons issue, we took a look at L.A., that iconic American city, through the lens of some of its many artists’ studios, visiting 16 people of different generations. Over the next 16 weeks, each of those studios will be featured on the site—one per week. Below, a photo preview of what is to come, and below that, the complete lineup of artists.
- Lili Bernard
- Samara Golden
- David Hockney
- Thomas Houseago
- Liz Larner
- Elad Lassry
- Enrique Martinez Celaya
- Catherine Opie
- Amanda Ross-Ho
- Ed Ruscha
- Lara Schnitger
- Jim Shaw
- Henry Taylor
- Diana Thater
- Kaari Upson
- Mary Weatherford
Coagula Art Journal May 2016 Issue
Eric Minh Swenson’s Art World Year Book of Art World All Stars
“Lili Bernard: A survivor, an activist, but most importantly, an artist. Lili Bernard paints elegant, sumptuous scenes of the uttermost cruelty in relating slave stories, Orishas and epic tales of bloodlust, revenge, and finally, redemption. Most importantly, redemption”
— MATT GLEASON, art critic/Coagula Art Journal Editor
March 1, 2016
Lili Bernard says she was assaulted by Bill Cosby in the early 1990s.
Community Awareness Award, Judges’ Special Recognition.
Credit: Amanda Demme/New York Magazine
“Oshun Altar-Hair Salon” by Lili Bernard pops out from against a wall inside L.A. Artcore, where it is on view until April 5 for “Pulse of L.A.,” a juried show featuring 23 female artists. The bright yellow table is decked out with crosses and beads, shells and baubles. There’s a prayer candle under the table. A mirror, comb and hairdryer hang from the side. Above it is a poster made to look like an ad for the latest hair product, boasting slogans like “Get your sweat on!” and “Racial Self-Hatred get thee gone!” In the center of the poster, Bernard poses with her daughter in a photo taken by artist Toni Scott. Both mother and daughter wear their hair in a natural style.
The altar is part of a bigger series called “Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure.” When presented in full, there are multiple altars that bring together Afro-Cuban religious traditions with elements of the hair salon. The series also includes a performance piece, where women wet their hair — “like a Baptism,” Bernard explains — to reveal their natural curls.
“There’s a lot of trauma for black women with regard to their hair,” says Bernard inside her home studio. She talks about the physical pain that can be caused by straightening hair, using chemicals that burn or wearing weaves that are tightly sewn in with natural hair. She also talks about the emotional trauma that comes with hair, the taunts that children have faced because of the smell of hair relaxing products or because a swim in a pool revealed one’s hair texture. She speaks personally about family pressure regarding her own hair, mentioning the criticism she received from her parents when she visited them with a natural hairstyle. “There’s so much tremendous pressure from the family, the black family, to try and make you look white,” she says.
Trauma is central to Bernard’s work. The Los Angeles-based artist, who was born in Cuba and was raised primarily in New Jersey, delves into trauma experienced by African people brought to the New World as slaves and the scars that exist many generations later. She explores traumas experienced by women, whether it’s the struggle to attain a beauty ideal to the pain of sexual assault. Bernard’s work is boldly feminist and as universal in its themes as it is personal.
In her “Antebellum Appropriations” series, Bernard references the great paintings of Europe’s art history as she builds a narrative of slavery and abuse. The project started with her participation in the “Tel-Art-Phone” show that Coagula Curatorial’s Mat Gleason curated at Beacon Arts in 2011. The event was modeled after the game Telephone, where each artist riffs on one who immediately preceded him or her. Bernard followed Coop and was inspired by his pin-up-style piece to reference Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” She created “The Sale of Venus,” with a pregnant woman on an auction block, clearly suffering from trauma. Bernard decided to keep going with the theme after the show. She followed “The Sale of Venus” with “Carlota Leading the People,” based on Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People. The piece depicts the story of a woman who led a slave revolt in Cuba and was ultimately executed. Bernard notes the horses in a corner of the painting — “they dragged and quartered her to death,” she explains. [image: “Oshun Altar-Hair Salon” by Lili Bernard]
Yet, there is more to the story. In “Caroline,” based on Manet’s “Olympia,” Bernard depicts rape, with Caroline representing her great-grandmother and the perpetrator representing her great-grandfather. Then there is “Carlota Slaying the Slaver,” which pays homage to Artimesia Gentilesch painting “Judith Slaying Holofernes.” In it, women are depicted mutilating their rapist.
As Gentilesch’s painting is said to be inspired by the artist’s own experience, so is Bernard’s work. Only recently has she been able to talk about the autobiographical aspects of the “Antebellum Appropriations” paintings. She points to some of the details, metaphors that reflect her own experience, like the silencing of women in the paintings.
While Bernard plans to continue with “Antebellum Appropriations”– she has ideas for more than 20 more additions to the series — she has already begun work on a new series of more autobiographical pieces. “I’m working on this body of work that’s coming out of me, not with effort, but compulsively,” she says. “It’s born out of this trauma, of which I spoke, that I endured in my early 20s.”
After Bernard was attacked, she sought help. A couple years later, she believed that she was getting better. Bernard carried on with her life and moved to Los Angeles. She had six children and went back to school, earning an MFA at Otis College of Art and Design. Still, she suffered from night terrors and panic attacks. Eventually, she was overcome by the memories. Bernard likens it to Hurricane Katrina. “Hurricane Katrina came and broke the levy and all the water came flooding over New Orleans, which was once very functional,” she says. Bernard sought help.
“I’m healing,” she says. “I’ve been recovering, but what’s coming out is the art. I’ve been prolifically, compulsively creating a whole bunch of art as therapy.”
Bernard describes the urgency and therapeutic nature of her art, comparing her art-making tools to “tools on an operating table in the ER.” While art helps Bernard’s recovery, the graphic nature of the paintings captures the physical and emotional violence so often perpetrated against women. Bernard points to the woman at the center of “Carlota Slaying the Slaver,” which she started last summer and is ver close to competition. The woman appears to be ready to castrate the attacker, but her expression shows that she is unsure about what she should do. “There’s a war going on there,” says Bernard.
That challenge to bring an end to rape culture is imbued in much of Bernard’s work. “I used to spend so much time with my art addressing white privilege, but, now I’m really focusing on male privilege,” she says. “I’m fighting male privilege.”
Top Image: “Carlota Leading the People” by Lili Bernard