Dust and Ashes: A Poetic Reaction to Berni’s Imaginary World

The Art Gallery is currently hosting the exhibition Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. Curated by Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Abigail McEwen, and University of Maryland graduate students, the exhibition features forty-five artists from sixteen countries across the Americas. To commemorate and celebrate this unique exhibition and collaboration between the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States and The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, various University of Maryland graduate students and undergraduate students have taken over our blog. Below, University of Maryland senior Angela Seo-hyun Cho employs poetry to analyze and interpret a work featured in the show.

Dust and Ashes: A Poetic Reaction to Berni’s Imaginary World

Angela Seo-hyun Cho ’15

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Antonio Berni, Ramona, 1965, Xilo-Collage Relief, 14.75 x 10 in. AMA | Collection OAS Art Museum of the Americas

Antonio Berni fixated on two subjects, Ramona Montiel and Juanito Laguna, beginning in the mid-1950s. What was it about these two characters that so enchained him to their existence? One of these characters, Ramona, is on display in The Art Gallery. The artwork is black and white, slightly raised as to give it a three-dimensional appearance, but still almost cartoon-like and eerie. Berni might have appreciated a poetic rendition of and reaction to his many studies of the characters Juanito, a poor boy struggling to survive in an industrial shantytown, and Ramona, a working-class girl turned high-class prostitute, selling her body and soul.

Here follows my poetic take on the world of Ramona:

Dust and Ashes

Is poor so poor or rich so rich?
As far black as blackness goes or as far light as lightness goes,
you dig and build empires of dust all around you

So, is dust then so delectable and so palatable to your lips
that you should guzzle it down and stuff it down your throat?
Why are you so unquenchably hungry?

You fill your belly with dust and excrete human ashes
And you use the excrement to fashion ornaments
And figurines that resemble the echo of love

And you decorate your empires with lace and pearls,
and paint the towns with black ashes,
all the while licking off more dust from the sides of cars, buildings, anything you can find

But, alas, the empire rocks to and fro and finally, collapses on top of you:
Shards of wealth pierce you in between your second and third rib.
You choke on your own excrement and you violently cough up rubies and emeralds

And you wonder what happened to your soul
And you realize your soul was made dust too
And you ate it 634 days ago when you forgot that
To be unimaginably rich is not always rich
and to be desperately poor is not always poor.

I leave you with some questions. From whose perspective does this poem come from? And secondly, what is your personal interpretation of this poem? Of Berni’s work?

Angela Cho is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is studying english literature and is interested in art of all forms.