As a young girl visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, Harmonia Rosales found a deep connection with fine art. However, she was also disconnected from the works because the people portrayed in the paintings were not like her—they were primarily white men and stereotyped women. Rosales, an Afro-Cuban American, has set out to bring a new appreciation to art history by reimagining the narrative in a contemporary context. The result is artwork that breaks preconceived notions to promote and empower women.
In her upcoming solo exhibition, New World Consciousness, at RJD Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York, beginning September 8, Rosales will focus on the duality of Virgin Mary—the chaste and idealized woman—and Eve—the disobedient being. The pieces also parallel the never-ending journeys and challenges that life brings.
On view will be portraits titled after the seasons, but symbolizing the seasons of life, and multi-figure paintings that the portraits can be paired with because they represent the same ideas through iconography. “You see Eve’s story, which is a woman’s story,” says Rosales.
In the pieces Spring and The Birth of Eve, Rosales presents the idea of birth in all its forms. It can be the physical birth of a child or it can be the birth of a new experience. “Spring shows the beginning of that challenge,” she explains. “It can be the birth of an idea, the birth of something that’s happening in your life. I’ve lived so many lives in my lifetime, and I’ve acquired more knowledge to conquer the next challenge. You can see [birth] as challenges—sometimes you have puberty, you have work, you have other things.”
Rosales explains The Birth of Eve, depicting a woman and child surrounded by a wreath of colorful flowers, can symbolize the birth of innocence. On the surface, it has the bright and beautiful blooms, but if you look deeper you will notice insects and the cherubs acting as protectors. “It’s beautiful, but cautionary,” describes the artist. “It’s the beginning and the end in a sense. Eve is both the mother and the child.”
Works such as Summer and Annunciation of a Woman are the next phase of the cycle when a person is figuring out their path. Both paintings have a depiction of a snake. In the biblical story of Adam and Eve the snake is the creature that convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and pass it along to Adam, which gave them knowledge that stripped their innocence. The pieces also show the
forbidden fruit as a fig, and while what exact fruit it is meant to be is unknown, Rosales says statues in Rome of the subject are covered with the fig leaf.
“The fig in any of my paintings is not necessarily bad,” Rosales says, “but it’s that fear of do you want to be blissfully ignorant or be strong and acquire wisdom and knowledge.”
Annunciation of a Woman represents the shift into womanhood. “The angel is giving her an ankh, which means a life. It’s blessing her with the ability to create life,” Rosales explains. “What I wanted to put out there is, again, not so much giving physical birth but acquiring that responsibility. What are you doing to put yourself out there and use your talent, and how are you going to use your voice or speech to contribute to your community for the better?
“In an essence we all need to work together; that is why Eve is everyone,” she continues. “I put a little bit of me in there with the African diaspora, but it is women in general. We have to stick together and work together and promote equality without having to, in a sense, cover up our femininity.”
Life continues to Fall and The Harvest, which show the woman at her peak of knowledge and understanding— when she is able to teach others. In Fall, the woman stands in profile—distinct from both Spring and Summer where she stares directly at the viewer. She is, as Rosales explains, “looking onward and not looking to you for direction.” The Harvest is a depiction of Rosales’ vision of Mother Africa, where she is teaching the next generation. “[There is one child] who is acquiring knowledge with the snake, another holding on to innocence in terms of the broken pearls. They kind of all reflect some form of the stages of life.”
New World Consciousness will hang through October 5.
1Annunciation of a Woman, oil and metallic gold on linen, 42 x 52"
4Summer, oil and metallic gold on linen, 24 x 24"
2The Birth of Eve, oil and metallic gold on linen,48 x 40"3Fall, oil and metallic gold on linen,24 x 24"