María Berrío (Colombian, active New York, born 1982), The Augur, 2019. Mixed paper collage, watercolor on canvas. Princeton University Art Museum. © María Berrío
“The Augur,” a new work by artist María Berrío, was recently installed in the third-floor reading room of Firestone Library. At 8 feet tall and over 7 feet wide, the piece was commissioned specifically for the space and is made from hundreds of layered pieces of paper. Berrío, speaking in a Sept. 17 Zoom event celebrating the installation, said that the physical collage also serves as “a collage of ideas.” Filled with symbolism from different cultures, places, and times, the work is, in Berrío’s view, an image of hope and an inspiration for imagination. 

The woman at the center of the piece is an augur, an ancient Roman official who interpreted the will of the gods through the behavior of birds. Berrío, who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia, imagines the augur as an immigrant — and, like the students in the library, as someone on a journey. “Around her I found the vastness of opportunities where she is standing,” Berrío said. 

Each of the birds flying above the augur has significance in a particular culture. Berrío sees this “impossible flight” as representing the diversity of the University. In the background, the dragon blood trees are intended to remind students to never forget their own identities. 

For Berrío, the dream-like quality of her work is crucial in inspiring students. “I think whoever is sitting there is having thoughts of changing the world or is really having thoughts of creating a new world,” she said. 

WATCH a video of Berrío’s creative process at