Artist Talk: María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Friday, April 10 | FREE

Preview of Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art | 4 pm

Artist Talk | 5 pm

By Whitney Tassie | Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1959, María Magdalena Campos-Pons relocated to the United States when she was 27. Her work is influenced by her African and Latin heritage. She is part of the African diaspora, a term that refers to communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of peoples from Africa, particularly those descended from the West and Central Africans who were enslaved and shipped to the Americas by way of the Atlantic slave trade. More recently, the Cuban Revolution led to a new form of diaspora. Like many Cuban families, Campos-Pons’s family was separated as some fled the island and were unable to return or communicate with those left behind.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, image courtesy the artist.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, image courtesy the artist.

In her work, Campos-Pons considers how family and history inform identity. Her Yoruba ancestors, the Middle Passage of the slave trade, the sugar plantations of her home town, and her mother’s domestic labor all interact in her artwork, suggesting that time and memory may not be separate linear progressions. Themes of absence, loss, and displacement are often present, sometimes represented by dreamlike waterscapes reminiscent of the vast oceans that separate families and cultures.


María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Constellation, 2004, instant color prints, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. © 2004, María Magdalena Campos-Pons.

Though her practice incorporates painting, sculpture, performance, and installation, Campos-Pons is best known for her large-scale Polaroid photographs. A large-format 20×24 camera allows her to capture and review images almost instantly, more like a digital camera than a traditional film camera. Being able to respond immediately to her images allows Campos-Pons to be performative in her photographic installations. Presented in a horizontal line like film stills, her multiple Polaroids convey movement and the passing of time. Shown in a grid format like Constellation, Campos-Pons’s 10 foot-square installation in Our America, time becomes confused. The artist’s body—symbolized by her long dreadlocks—becomes fragmented as it floats in an ethereal world. The hair, insinuating the passage of time and African ancestral roots, creates an abstract, painterly composition as it swirls across the 16 Polaroids like a cosmic body.



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