Influenced by memories of her native Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Rodríguez combines found objects and images rich in symbolism to construct humorous yet critical works that examine cultural identity and gender stereotypes.
After studying painting at Yale University in New Haven in the early 1970s, Rodríguez moved to Paris to study etching at Atelier 17 and eventually settled in London in 1984. Working in her East London studio, she developed highly personal work inspired by her childhood memories and populated by tropical motifs. In her paintings, stuffed caimans, iguanas and lizards are suspended on colourful flat surfaces alongside representations of cacti and bodily fragments such as hands, wounded hearts and photocopies of mechanically altered ears. Describing Colombia’s influence on her work, Rodríguez recalls: ‘There is that sense of unreality… a feeling of being on the edge of the world, at its margin… a feeling of floating, of being suspended in mid-air – a dreamlike state – which is inevitably in my work.’
An avid collector of objects she found in street markets in Colombia and Mexico, Rodríguez incorporated all kinds of findings into her work, from carved, painted and moulded masks, to devotional images, horns and plastic toys. Sometimes she would place an object on the canvas and paint or spray around it, as in Paisaje flotando con cuernos (1993) where two mounted horns are stuck to the centre of the canvas and framed by a deep blue rectangle surrounded by floating hands and plastic bottle teats.
In the late 1970s, after moving to Paris, Rodríguez began to arrange these objects in what she called ‘Magic Boxes’: small wooden boxes with doors, that she painted with brilliant colours and then placed objects inside, like a relic or a fetish. By combining seemingly disconnected objects, Rodríguez would create striking and often surreal compositions, as in works such as Caja mágica con elefante bajo las estrellas protegido por un corazón (1993-98), where the figure of an elephant stands inside a bright yellow wooden box surrounded by metal studs. The box is crowned by two horns at the top and decorated with an embroidered heart at the back.
Rodríguez’s appropriation of mass-produced objects, readymade materials and sentimental mementoes explores the crossovers between the exotic and the popular, casting an analytical eye on her background. In this exhibition, Rodríguez’s idiosyncratic visual vocabulary builds a strong characterisation of her Latin American roots, exploiting the clichés that have defined her native Barranquilla: the sensual colours, tropical motifs, and the many myths and legends that populate the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Ofelia Rodríguez (b. 1946, Colombia) studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, and later at Yale University, New Heaven. Between 1978-79, she travelled to Paris, where she exhibited her first assemblages and magical boxes. In 1984 she settled in London. She has exhibited her work at venues such as The Queens Museum of Art, New York, USA (1988); the 5th Havanna Biennale, Cuba (1995); Museo de Arte Moderno ‘La Tertulia’, Cali, Colombia (1995); MOLAA, Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California (2011, 2017 and 2021); and Instituto de Visión, Bogotá, Colombia (2017). Her work is held in collections such as ESCALA, Essex Collection of Art from Latin America, The University of Essex and MOLAA, Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California.