Cuban-born fine artist, Los Angeles-based painter, specializing in oils and Caribbean themes. Founded collaborative HABLA: Harvesting Asian Black Latino Artists. Please visit HABLA at www.hablala.org.
In 2002, immediately following the birth of my fourth of six children, I had become very critically ill with pregnancy-induced Acute Graves Disease. I was at death’s door. During that period, I began enjoying a strong soul connection with the angels, the spirit of my ancestors and God. Today, in my complete wellness; my relationship with the spirit world continues. I open my heart to be artistically moved by the Spirit and by the will of my ancestors’ souls whom I often eulogize on canvas, in my poems and playwriting and in my videography.
In many ways, environmentally as well as spiritually, I am what I am because of my ancestors. I am their dream come true. I inherited from them skills in art and writing and a passion for evangelism and social justice. My father’s father, José Rodríguez Figueroa (whom I eulogize in the “Mambi en la Manigua” painting), was a widely published author, poet, oil painter, multi-linguist, evangelical minister and Mambi (insurgent Cuban soldier, during Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain). I believe my abuelo's spirit to be instrumental as a designing force in the creation of my art and poetry.
In my paintings of Cuban content, I attempt to thematically expose the paradigm of the suffering that we Cuban people have endured, juxtaposed against the splendid flora of that beautiful Caribbean island in which I was born. I do not tire in telling our stories of suffering, for there is joy to be found even in suffering. It was through my mother’s suffering in which I came into this world, hallelujah, and it will be in my children’s suffering through which I will depart from this world into heaven, amen. Similarly, it was through my parents’ suffering and great sacrifice in which I left Cuba and came to this country. As my friend, author Deborah Gregory has said, "Suffering is the touchstone of creativity."
Whether it be through paintings of my resilient Caribbean slave ancestors, my beloved multicultural grandparents or of animals and flowers that thrive in the countries from which we hail, I attempt to commemorate the important roles which my forbearers, God and nature play in my being. In my portraits and poems; I try to capture the complex face of human emotion, which crosses all cultural boundaries and all generations.
My plans for the future involve my enrolling within a graduate program at a top tier institution, where I can continue to develop my multi-dimensional work-in-progress entitled, "Ceiba de Cuba." In Ceiba de Cuba, I combine my artistic and literary gifts to tell the story of my Cuban ancestors and of life in Cuba, through a weaving of real-life stories and fiction. The work is an onstage fusion of my paintings, poetry (in the form libretto), performance art, playwriting and videography, mixed into a medley of drama, dance and drumming, with the help of a supporting cast. The completion of "Ceiba de Cuba" would be the focus of my graduate work and degree.
The first part of Ceiba de Cuba, “De Sus Raices” ("Of Her Roots"), tells the story of my Siboney (native Cuban) ancestors and their plight at the hands of the Conquistadors. The second part, “De Su Tronco y Ramas" ("Of Her Trunk and Branches"), tells the story of my African slave ancestors who were kidnapped to Cuba via the middle passage. The third part, “De Su Flor,” ("Of Her Flower") tells the story of the Mambises who fought to liberate Cuba from centuries of cruel dominion by the Spaniards. The fourth part, “De Su Fruta” ("Of Her Fruit"), deals with life in Cuba, since the revolution of 1959.
To view a video abstract of "Ceiba de Cuba," please click here.
My plans for academic and personal enrichment involve the continuation of my travels across the globe, interviewing and collaborating with artists of color, particularly those in countries from which my ancestors hailed. The objective of the travel would be to edify and lend authenticity to my work-in-progress, as well as to share my own personal experiences and work as an artist with those whom I encounter abroad, both one-on-one and on stage. I am very grateful that the complexity of my life and my heritage allows me to create art which means so much to so many people of so many different cultures.
1989-1990 City University of New York, Baccalaureate Program, New York, NY, B.A., German.
Summer 1985 Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, General Physics Courses
1982-1985 Cornell University, began as a B.F.A. Major, ended up as a Biology Major
AWARDS AND HONORARIUMS
2008, 2007, 2006 Honorarium, Toyota International Headquarters Black History Month Annual Art Show
2001 Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Diane Watson
1993 Keynote Speaker, Trenton State College Minority Scholars Awards, “The Values of Mentoring”
1982-1985 Cornell University Academic Scholarship
1982 The American School in Japan Major Art Award
PUBLICATIONS AND ARTICLES
2008 & 2007 Editions: Peterson’s College Guide for Visual Arts Majors, Two Autobiographical Essays
2008 “Who is Lili Bernard,” Spirited Women Blog Critique by Journalist Naila Francis
2007 L.A. Parent Magazine, November Edition, “Who’s Who of Hip Parents,” Artist Interview
2009 Arts in the One World Conference, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
2009 “Bring in the Summer Solstice,” Caribbean Heritage Organization, Los Angeles, CA
2008 “Chinatown Extravaganza,” Spirited Woman, Los Angeles, CA
2008 Black History Month Solo Art Exhibition and Lecture, St. Agatha Catholic Church, Los Angeles, CA
2007 Hayworth Theatre, During the Run of August Wilson’s “Piano Lesson,” Los Angeles, CA
2006 Dysonna on Stage Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2009 “Ashé: Blessings, Energy, Power,” Ave. 50 Studio, Los Angeles, CA
2008 “Bridges,” William Grant Still Art Center, Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles, CA
2008 “PLAYe: Stories of Africa,” Downtown Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2008, 2007, 2006 Toyota International Headquarters Black History Month Art Show, Torrance, CA
1982 The American Club, Tokyo, Japan
2008 Merely Marley, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA
2006 NOHO Art Festival, North Hollywood, CA
2008 Marcía Lewis, Portrait Oil Painting, Los Angeles, CA
2007 Charles D’Arcy, Portrait Oil Painting, Brooklyn, NY
1995 Richard Gay, Portrait Oil Painting, New York, NY
1982 The American School in Japan Pre-K, Exterior Wall Mural, Tokyo, Japan
Lili Bernard, whose ancestry is Cuban-Jamaican-Spanish-Chinese-British, was born in Santiago de Cuba. When she was four, her family moved to the United States. At the age of sixteen, Lili moved with her family to Tokyo, where she co-starred on Japanese primetime dramatic television and exposed her artwork in various exhibitions. Upon graduating from the American School in Japan; Lili entered the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program at Cornell University, where she also studied drama and German. Completing three years at Cornell; Lili left for New York City, where she trained in theatre under Sonia Moore and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in German from the City University of New York.
Lili's New York City theatre credits include performances at the Puerto-Rican Traveling Theatre Co., Nat Horne Theatre, INTAR, American Renaissance Theatre, Theatre for the New City, Henry Street Settlement, The Pearl Theatre, Cooper Square Theatre, Frank Silvera's Writers Workshop and Plays for Living. In Los Angeles, Lili was a cast member of UCLA Players Theatre Company. She also played the female lead, Maggie, in an all-Black stage production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," at the Arena Theatre in Cal State LA. In television, Lili guest-starred as the zany and very pregnant Mrs. Minifield on “The Cosby Show” and co-starred as Kramer’s Black girlfriend, Anna, on the sitcom, “Seinfeld." Variety commended Lili for her portrayal as Harlan's Nurse in the CBS TV miniseries, "Stephen King's Golden Years." Of Lili’s work as the female lead (opposite Ving Rhames and Eriq LaSalle) in the BBC film, "Murder in Oakland," critic Sean Day-Lewis wrote in London's Sunday Telegraph, "A nerve tuggingly effective performance by Lili Bernard, full of pain, guilt and fear.”
Lili’s paintings have been exhibited at the William Grant Still Center of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Toyota National Headquarters, The Hayworth Theatre, St. Agatha’s Catholic Church, PlayE at the Downtown Art Gallery, and California Institute of the Arts, where in 2009, for their Arts in the One World Conference, Lili premiered a part of her work-in-progress entitled “Ceiba de Cuba.” The work is an onstage mergence of Lili’s artwork, poetry, playwriting and videography. It is a fusion of paintings, performance art, spoken word, video, drama, dance and Afro-Cuban drums, which tells the story of life in Cuba and of Lili’s ancestors, weaving reality and fiction.
In 1995, Lili married civil rights attorney Franklin Ferguson. The couple lives in Los Angeles with their six young children to whom Lili gave birth in a ten year span. Founder of the City of Angels Little League, Lili enjoys painting in her Chinatown studio, amidst the bustle of infant nursing, PTO board meetings and the shuttling of her children to their after school activities. Lili is the founder of the artist collaborative HABLA: Harvesting Asian Black Latino Artists. The purpose of the collaborative is to create a platform for the artist of color in the mainstream art world, where nonwhite artists are grossly underrepresented. Of her painting, Lili writes, “I paint, because I consider it my purpose under heaven, to help spread a little love through colors on canvas that celebrate my multi-cultural native Cuban heritage and impel me to express myself through poetry, libretto, drama and videography. I strive, through these mediums, to very personally share with others the spiritual and physical beauty found within the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora.”