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María Magdalena Campos Pons

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Nationality  Cuban-American

Name  Maria Campos
María Magdalena Campos Pons httpsd1lfxha3ugu3d4cloudfrontnetfabimages5
Born  August 22, 1959 (1959-08-22) Matanzas, Cuba
Education  National School of Art in Havana, Graduate Institute of Art, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Known for  Photography, Installations, Audiovisual Media, Sculpture

Artist maria magdalena campos pons on sugar bittersweet

María Magdalena Campos-Pons (born August 22, 1959) is a Cuban-born artist based in Boston. Campos-Pons works primarily in photography, performance, audiovisual media, and sculpture. She is considered a "key figure" among Cuban artists who found their voice in a post-revolutionary Cuba. Her art deals with themes of gender and sexuality, multicultural identity (especially Cuban, Chinese, and Nigerian), Cuban culture, and religion/spirituality (in particular, Roman Catholicism and Santeria).


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Early life and education

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Campos-Pons was born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1959 and grew up in a sugar plantation town called La Vega in Cuba. Her paternal great-grandparents were Nigerian (Yoruba). She also has Chinese and Hispanic heritage. Her African ancestors, who were brought over by sugar plantation owners in the late 19th century, retained many traditions and beliefs from Africa. Many of these passed-down traditions influenced and became part of Campos-Pons's art. The African side of her family were forced to work as slaves on sugar plantations and as domestic servants. The Chinese side of her family also worked in the sugar trade as indentured servants in the sugar mills.

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When she was young, Campos relates that during a trip to the National Cuban Museum of Fine Art, she distinctly felt that black Cubans were conspicuously missing from the art. She did not feel as though black Cubans were equally represented.

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Campos-Pons has described much of her art education as very traditional, rooted in drawing and sculpture. She trained at the Escuela National de Arte in Havana between 1976 and 1979. From 1980 to 1989, she attended Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA). The ISA allowed students to be exposed to international artistic movements and develop art that drew from Cuba's unique "mixed traditions and cultures."

María Magdalena Campos Pons Mara Magdalena CamposPons Journeys Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Campos-Pons earned her MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1988. Before moving to Boston in 1991, she left Cuba to take a fellowship in Banff, Canada. Since 1991 she has lived in Boston.


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Between 1986 and 1989 Campos-Pons was professor of Painting and Aesthetic at the Instituto Superior de Arte. She started exhibiting internationally in 1984. In the late 1980s, her art work gained "international recognition" with her abstract paintings dealing with female sexuality. Her work coincides with the rise of the New Cuban Art movement. The New Cuban Art movement began as a reaction against the repressive aspects of the Cuban state and the introduction of conceptual art. The movement was less focused on technical skill and more on creating an art that was genuinely Cuban. A large part of this artistic movement was the introduction of Afro-Cuban presence, both as artists and within the art itself. Humor and spirituality were major themes in New Cuban Art. Her early work, often consisting of separate, shaped canvases, suggested fragmentation of the female self and referenced Afro-Cuban myths. She also explored reproductive rights and feminism through her art. Campos Pons work often revolves around feminist ideologies. In an interview with Lynne Bell, she stated: "My work in Cuba looked at issues of sexuality, women's place in society, and the representation of women in the history of art". Since there was not a larger feminism movement in Cuba, it was only through the expression of art through artists like Campos-Pon and others that feminism was kept in the spotlight and popular consciousness.

In the 1990s Campos-Pon explored her family's ties to slavery and the Santería tradition carried over by her Yoruba family members. Santería is a spiritual practice which was developed by African slaves in Cuba by combining influences from Yoruba and Roman Catholic religious systems. Santería is often referred to as a "woman’s religion" as it is a religion shaped by women and practiced largely by women. Maria Magdalena Campos Pons uses Santería as a theme in her art to identify her Nigerian ancestry and Cuban heritage. She explores the rituals and symbols of Santeria in some of her work from this time period. The Seven Powers Come by the Sea (1992) and The Seven Powers (1994) are installations that address slavery and make mention of various Yoruba gods and goddesses.

After 1994, there was a shift in Campos-Pons's work, and it became somewhat ethnographic." This work is largely autobiographical and has tended to examine her ancestors' relationship with slavery and the sugar industry. She started using large-format photographs which were often arranged into diptychs, triptychs or other configurations. These works are reminiscent of works by Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems.

In the early 2000s, Campos-Pon began to create work that is more abstract and minimal than her earlier art.

Campos-Pon is interested in showing "crosscultural" and "crossgenerational" themes dealing with race and gender as "expressed in symbols of matriarchy and maternity." Campos-Pons says: "Of merging ideas, merging of ethnicities, merging of traditions... I am as much black, Cuban, woman, Chinese. I am this tapestry of all of that, and the responses to that could be very complicated and could include even anguish and pain." Other ideas that her work explores includes exile, immigration, memory and Cuba itself.

Her art has been shown in scores of solo and group exhibitions, including solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Venice Biennale; the Johannesburg Biennial; the First Liverpool Biennial; the Dakar Biennale in Senegal; and the Guangzhou Triennial in China. Campos-Pons's work is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Canada, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, the Miami Art Museum and the Fogg Art Museum.

Campos-Pons currently teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Personal life

She is married to Neil Leonard, a composer and musician at the Berklee College of Music with whom she sometimes collaborates professionally. Leonard has collaborated on several of her works, most notably, her exhibition in the Venice Biennale. Leonard is a well-known composer and jazz musician, who has also had his work displayed during the Biennale. In Campos Pons’ exhibition at the Cuban Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Leonard’s compositions accompanied her art, which art critic Holland Cotter describes as a "haunting, rhythmic, chantlike score, secular spiritual music for a New World".


The following are some examples of some of Campos Pons' art:

  • "The Flag. Color Code Venice 13," from 2013, by María Magdalena Campos-Pons.
  • This work of art was displayed in the Cuban Pavilion during the Venice Biennale of 2013. In this work, Campos Pons is dressed in a "neo-Byzantine costume combining elements of Chinese, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean attire", demonstrating visibly her intersectional cultural heritage. There is also spiritual symbolism in the work, as Santeria, which plays a large symbolic role in Campos Pons’ art, is known for its dedication to its namesake, saints. In The Flag. Color Code Venice 13, Campos Pons appears as a cross-cultural saint. Campos Pons dressed in this attire for a guerilla performance in Piazza San Marco during the Venice Biennale, accompanied by the Cuban band "Los Hermanos Arango".

  • "Spoken Softly with Mama", from 1998, by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (Nashville Scene).
  • This work of art was a video installation at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts exhibition "Mama/Reciprocal Energy". The exhibition dealt with the dualism in the term "Mama", which, in addition to being an endearing word for mother in both English and Spanish, is a term that in some Latin and African American communities is used to degrade women. Created soon after Campos Pons moved to the United States from Cuba, Spoken Softly with Mama deals with the feminist frustration of the perversion of the word by displaying soft, memory-like flashes of videos of maternal imagery. This is a to a description of the exhibition:

  • "The One That Carried Fire", from 2011, by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (Studio International).
  • This work of art explores the creation of gender identity, and in particular deals with the construction of femininity. The One That Carried Fire consists of organic lines and shapes of flowers painted in bright reds and pink, alluding to female reproductive organs. At the bottom is Campos Pons’ self-portrait, whose natural hair holds a glowing orb connecting her to the burst of color and flowers, not only a physical connection with her femininity, but also a symbol of familial ties to her cultural heritage.


    Campos-Pons has received many awards and recognitions, including the "Mention of Honor", in 1986 in the XVIIIème Festival International de la Peinture, Château Musée, Cagnes Sur Mer, France. In 1990 Painting Fellowship, The Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada, in 1992 Foreign Visiting Artist Grant, Media Arts, Canada Council, Canada, in 1994 Bunting Fellowship. Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute, Radcliffe Research and Study Center, Cambridge, MA and in 1995 Art Reach 95 Award, National Congress of Art & Design, Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • 2012 Woman of Color Award Boston MA US
  • 2011 Woman of Courage Boston MA US
  • 2011 Hispanic Alianza Award Nashville TN US
  • 2009 The Jorge Hernandez Leadership in the Arts Award, MA US
  • 2007 Rappaport Prize MA US
  • 1997 The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, NY US
  • 1995 Art Reach 95 Award, National Congress of Art & Design, Salt Lake City, UT US
  • 1995 Bunting Fellowship, Radcliffe College at Harvard, Cambridge, MA US
  • 1995 New England Foundation for the Arts, Regional Fellowship, MA US
  • 1992-1991 Foreign Visiting Artist Grant, Media Arts, Canada Council Painting
  • 1992-1991 Fellowship, The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada
  • 1990 Painting Fellowship, The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada
  • 1989 Medal of Honor, City of Guanabacoa, Cuba
  • 1985 Symposium of Scientific Studies, Research Award, Higher Institute of Art, Havana, Cuba
  • Exhibitions

  • 2011–2012: Journeys & Mama/ Reciprocal Energy, First Center for Visual Arts - Nashville TN, USA
  • 2007: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Everything Is Separated by Water, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach (solo)
  • 2007: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Everything Is Separated by Water, Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN (solo)
  • 2007: Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
  • 2006: New Work, Gallery Pack, Milan, Italy (solo)
  • 2006: Dipersed, MoAD SanFrancisco
  • 2006: Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits, Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC
  • 2005: Getting Emotional, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
  • 2005: Pan African Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art, Salvador Bahia Brazil
  • 2005: RAMPA - Signaling New Latin American Art Initiatives, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe
  • 2005: Some Color: A Color Photography Exhibition, Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston
  • 2005: Back Yard, Dreams, Julie Saul Gallery New York, NY (solo)
  • 2005: New Work, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Miami, FL (solo)
  • 2005: Dispersed, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA
  • 2005: ARCO ’05, Gallery Pack, Milan, Italy
  • 2005: Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits, El Museo del Barrio, NY
  • 2005: Dreaming Now, The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, MA
  • 2004: Visualizing Diaspora/Constructing Self, GASP, Brookline, MA
  • 2004: 3 x 3: THREE ARTISTS/THREE PROJECTS, Dak’Art 2004, Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Dakar Senegal
  • 2004: De lo que soy/Of what I am, Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY
  • 2004: Remberance Fields, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Japan
  • 2004: Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston MA
  • 2004: Inside/Outside, Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery, Wake Forest University
  • 2004: Threads of Memory, Dak’Art, the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, 6th edition (solo)
  • 2004: Elevata, Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston, MA (solo)
  • 2004: Dak’Art, the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, 6th edition, Dakar, Senegal
  • 2004: Talking Pictures, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Miami, FL (solo)
  • 2004: Something New, Something Old, Schneider Gallery Chicago Ill (solo)
  • 2003: De lo que soy/Of what Iam, Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, New York
  • 2003: Remberence Fields, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Japan
  • 2003: Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston
  • 2003: Only Skin Deep, ICP, New York
  • 2003: Interiority or Hill Sided Moon, La Marrana, Montemarcello, Italy (solo)
  • 2003: One Thousand Ways to Say Goodbye, Henie Onstad, Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway (solo)
  • 2002–2003: María Magdalena Campos-Pons, North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, North Dakota (solo)
  • 2002: M.M. Campos-Pons, Gallery Pack, Milan, Italy (solo)
  • 2002: Art Through the Eye of the Needle, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway
  • 2001: Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and Out Africa, 49th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
  • 2001: Unpacking Europe, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2001: Museum Eki, Kyoto; Tkamatsu City Museum of Art Japan
  • 2001: Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan
  • 2001: Nesting, Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL (solo)
  • 2000: Nesting, Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston, MA (solo)
  • 2000: The Likeness of Being, Contemporary Self Portraiture by 60 Women Artists, DC Moore Gallery, New York
  • 2000: Religion, Contemporary Interpretations by Women, The Art Gallery University of New Hampshire
  • 2000: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2000: Visibility, Museum of Contemporary Art, Baltimore
  • 1999–2000: Meanwhile, the Girls Were Playing, MIT List Visual Arts Center Cambridge, MA (solo)
  • 1999: Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art, Liverpool, UK
  • 1999: Uncommon Perspectives, South Shore Art Center, Cohasset, MA
  • 1999: Croosing/Traversee, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  • 1999: Ritual Acts: Videos by Women, Decordova Museum, MA
  • 1998: Unfolding Desires, Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY (solo)
  • 1998: Spoken Softly with Mama, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada (solo)
  • 1998: History of People... Part I, "A Town Portrait," Lehman College, NJ (solo)
  • 1998: M.M. Campos-Pons, Sustenance, Martha Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL (solo)
  • 1997: Abridor de Caminos, Martha Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL (solo)
  • 1997: M.M. Campos-Pons, New Work, Ambrosino Gallery, Coral Gables, FL (solo)
  • 1997: When I am not Here. Estoy Alla, The Caribbean Cultural Center, New York, NY (solo)
  • 1997: Trade Routes, Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 1997: Caribbean Vision: Contemporary Painting & Sculpture, Smithsonian, Washington DC
  • 1996: Skin, M.M. Campos-Pons & Sandy Slone, Crieger/Dane Gallery, Boston, MA
  • 1996: Grifu, Campos-Pons, Carlos Cardenas, Tomas Esson, C.M.A.C., Cambridge, MA
  • 1996: M.M. Campos-Pons, New Work, Martha Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL (solo)
  • 1995: Latin American Women Artists, 1915 - 1995, Milwaukee Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, NM
  • 1995: Cuba, La Isla Possible, Centre de Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona, Spain
  • 1994: Rejoining the Spiritual: The Land in Latin American Art, The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • 1994: Transcending the Borders of Memory, Norton Gallery & School of Art, FL
  • 1994: Recent Work, Miami Dade Community College Gallery, Miami, FL (solo)
  • 1994: History of People Who Were Not Heroes, Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (solo)
  • 1993: Let me Tell You, INTAR, Latin American Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
  • 1993: Racially Inscribed Body, Akin Gallery, Boston, MA (solo)
  • 1993: Trade Routes, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY
  • 1993: Witness, Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver, Canada
  • 1992: Ways to See: New Art From Massachusetts, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
  • 1992: The Year of the White Bear, The Walker Center for the Arts, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1992: Como el Cuerpo de un Hombre es un Arbol … / … How the Body of a Person is a Tree …, Gallery La Centrale/Powerhouse, Montreal, Canada (solo)
  • 1991: A Woman at the border/Una Mujer en la Frontera, SOHO 20 Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
  • 1991: Amuletos/Amulets, Burnaby Art Gallery, B.C., Canada (solo)
  • 1991: Africa in America, Traveling Show from 4th Biennial of Havana, Spain IV Biennial de La Havana, National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana
  • 1991: El Corazon Sangante/The Bleeding Heart, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
  • 1990: Cuba OK, Stadische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Germany
  • 1990: No Man is an Island: Young Cuban Art, Porin Taidesmuseo, Finland, Flaffy Palace, Vienna, Austria
  • 1990: A Woman at the Border/Una Mujer en la Frontera, Presentation Room JPL Building, Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada (solo)
  • 1989: Isla/Island, Castillo de la Fuerza/Castle of Royal Force, Havana, Cuba (solo)
  • 1989: Contemporary Art from Havana, Riverside Studios, London, UK, Aberstwyth Arts Centre, Dyfed, Wales
  • 1989: Made in Havana, Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisborne, Australia
  • 1988: Made in Havana, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia
  • 1988: Raices en Accion Nuevos Artistas Cubanos/Roots in Action, New Cuban Artists, Museum of Art Carrillo Gil, Mexico
  • 1988: Erotic Garden or Some Annotations on Hypocrisy/Jardin Erotico, Kennedy Building Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA (solo)
  • 1987: The Love, National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba
  • 1987: Veintitantos Abriles, Havana Gallery, Havana, Cuba
  • 1986: Africa Inside Cuba 6 Fine Artists, (Bedia, Lam, Mendive, Olazabal) Wifredo Lam Center, Havana, Cuba, National Museum of Anthropology, Luanda, Angola 18th International Painting Competition, Cagnes Sur Mer, France 10 Años del ISA, National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba ARA OKO, Museum of Guanabacoa, 2nd Havana Biennial, Cuba
  • 1985: Acoplamientos/Coupling, Gallery L, Havana, Cuba (solo)
  • 1984: 13 of March Exhibition, University of Havana, Cuba
  • 1981: Four Young Creators, (Marta M., Perez B. Regina F., Eidania Perez, M. M. Campos-Pons), Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba
  • Quotes

  • "Six things are difficult in this world: to be a woman; to be black; to be Cuban; to believe in love; to believe in people; and the possibility that the world can be better."—From the solo exhibition, María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island at the Spelman Museum of Fine Art (2008).
  • "The construction of identity is such a complex layer rooted with so many implications, and I believe that my attempt with that piece was to open the conversation to that by saying that identity could be a tragedy. If I let myself be seen only as a Cuban, that is a trap. If I let myself be seen only as woman, that is a trap. If I let myself be seen only as black, that is a trap. If I let myself be seen only as woman with Chinese ancestry, that is a trap. So, I wanted to open the conversation to the construction of identity, and especially within the history of Cuba. Cuba is such a place of encounters, no? Of merging ideas, merging of ethnicities, merging of traditions.... What I was trying to say is this is who I am".
  • "Yoruba culture which is one of the main components of santeria and one of the main cultural components of Cuba. There is no denying how important white Spanish culture has been to Cuba but black culture is a very significant chunk of what constitutes Cuba as a nation".
  • "Performative and oral traditions are very important in Cuba. In Santeria rituals the presence of the body is overwhelming, totally overwhelming. I don't compare my work to the intense performance that happens in some of the rituals but of course it is informed by them, this is definitely a source I use. I know how powerful a body is, just in being there. I don't announce my performances, they happen".
  • "The older generation talks about being the sons and daughters of those who made the long, involuntary journey and who remember where the pain starts. Wherever they are, they are still suffering marginalisation — this is the legacy of slavery. Officially there is no racism in Cuba, it is legislated out, but I encountered many incidents of racism all my life even though the idea was that we were equal. People with darker skins are still suffering because of the legacy of this long history of exclusion".
  • "Absolutely, identities can be painful, restrictive and dangerous. My idea about a search for identity is to embrace the other, to understand the other, to share in a space of similarity. In the search for identity we need to mark the differences but what we want to find in the end are the similarities — because in the end we are born, we breathe, we die, we love, we hate... I have spent a lot of time thinking about how the current discourses of identity can become discussions of exclusion instead of a dialogue. I think it is important to talk about this and this is one of the ideas behind the series. As a black Cuban female living outside of Cuba, I have something to say that is particular and personal about this in-between space.
  • "The being in the other side, being on the other age, is what I have found to be intriguing and that is open, really, as an opportunity to look at the center of how we could read our own understanding of identity and nation. I no longer think that I am Cuban because I was born in Cuba only, or that I am not Cuban because I left Cuba, or that I am less Cuban because I have lived out of Cuba for the last twenty-five years. There are so many, many ways to be Cuban today. What does that mean?".

  • María Magdalena Campos Pons


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