María Magdalena Campos-Pons opens an exhibition at Galerie Barbara Thumm

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María Magdalena Campos-Pons opens an exhibition at Galerie Barbara Thumm
María Magdalena Campos-Pons: My Mother Told Me I Am Chinese: China Porcelain, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm.



BERLIN.- Born in Matanzas province, Cuba, the renowned interdisciplinary artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons works with performance, painting, photography, video, music, and sculpture. Campos-Pons explores themes of identity, race, gender, diaspora, and spirituality in her work, impulsed by her transcultural Nigerian, Chinese, and Spanish heritage.

With an artistic career spanning over four decades, María Magdalena Campos-Pons returns to Berlin with her second solo exhibition at Galerie Barbara Thumm, featuring two new paintings, video pieces, and an installation with porcelain vessels. The exhibition offers insight into the construction and expression of the artist‘s concept of identity, interconnecting multiple religious, spiritual, and geographical factors. In her repertoire, Campos-Pons draws from her personal experience to narrate the process of identity construction, from her own exile moving from Cuba to the United States, as well as her ancestors’, who arrived to the island from Africa and China. Her oeuvre interweaves personal experiences that tackle universal and collective ones at the same time, addressing historical themes such as the African and Chinese diaspora in the Caribbean. Campos-Pons uses her art as a medium for storytelling, engaging all senses through her performances and installations, always guided by her conviction of art’s healing power.

As a result of the invitation to participate in the 2008 Guangzhou triennial, Campos-Pons began investigating her Chinese ancestry and including it in her art. She created the installation “My Mother Told Me I Am Chinese: China Porcelain” (2008) for the triennial, including forty porcelain vessels and an acrylic shelf overlaying a video; Campos-Pons appears in front of a mirror performing a sort of ritual to the rhythm of music composed by Neil Leonard, while wearing a Yoruba mask which she later removes to paint her face white and cover her head with a veil, like a porcelain doll, suggesting a resemblance between the figures yet revealing a multifaceted and different appearance. The vessels evoke the relationship between Chinese porcelain used in Santería rituals (an Afro-Cuban religion combining Yoruba and Catholic elements), echoing the syncretism and presence of those cultures in herself and in Cuba. For the second and next iterations of the installation, the artist made and hand-painted each vase during her residency at the Harvard Ceramics Program in 2008, depicting landscapes of Cuba, Chinese characters and symbols, as well as Yoruba deities like Ochún, Ogún, Changó, and Yemayá, among others.

In addition, Campos-Pons created a self-portrait that often accompanies the installation, titled “My Mother Told Me I Am Chinese: The Painting Lesson” (2008). In her characteristic grid-like composition, the portrait features nine or, in some cases, twenty-one, large-scale polaroids that capture her dressed as in the video from “China Porcelain” with her face painted in white. What began as the construction of an exploratory character in the past, later came to be her artistic “persona”: FeFa (standing for Familiares en el Extranjero/Family Abroad). FeFa appeared both in photos and in person in performances around the globe, as in the 11th Havana Biennial in 2012 and the 55th Venice Biennial in 2013, among many others until the present day. In 2024, she produced a new watercolor piece recreating her figure from the polaroids, to be presented at Galerie Barbara Thumm for the first time.

Despite not being initiated into the Santería religion, Campos-Pons grew up among its practices and often incorporates some of its elements into her pieces, re-imagining how traditions were kept and transmitted across generations in her family. In fact, similarly to her 2008 “China porcelain” installation, in 2021-2023 she created the series “Liminal Circularity, Family Whisper,” consisting of six portraits representing Yoruba-Santería deities but now in the form of some of her women relatives. The additional portraits were shown at the 2023 Sharjah Biennial and most recently at the 2024 Diriyah Biennial, and two new triptychs will be on view for the first time at Galerie Barbara Thumm. The artworks delve into the artist‘s familial cultural traditions and how they have been passed down across generations, hence the “circularity” in the title. In “(Portrait #4) Cousin María, Feast for Ogún,” a woman honors Ogún, deity of iron and war, holding a platter of fruits commonly used in ritual practices (mamey, banana, and watermelon) while seating on an iron stool and resting her feet over a machete, Ogún’s symbol. The pink flowers in the background also allude to the orisha, they are “Yerba Diez del Día,” used as offerings in rituals. “Portrait #5” portrays a scene associated with Yemayá, deity of the sea and maternity, depicting a woman in a blue dress standing on coral-patterned spheres and symbolic blue flowers also used as offerings, like blue jasmine, hydrangeas, blue plumbago, and larkspurs. In front of each portrait stands a small glass stool, a replica of a family heirloom that Campos-Pons’ includes as a symbol of tradition and shared heritage between the women in her family.

The gallery’s project space presents a series of videos by the artist in collaboration with Kamaal Malak, some of which were showcased during the performance “A Mother‘s River of Tears” in her solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 2023. For this occasion, Campos-Pons performed a ritual in commemoration of violence and injustices against black people, accompanied by other women and live music by Kamaal Malak. Campos-Pons described this performance and its elements as “a call to radical love in unity, radical love in the present, radical love in healing, radical love in dreaming together of a better future, a cleansing of space, a cleansing of history.” (1)

The exhibiton offers a glimpse into some of the works of this multifaceted artist, a selection of pieces made years apart that continue to respond to Campos-Pons’ ever-lasting and ever-changing quest to explore her identity. Her works lead us to question absolute truths about who we are and how we define ourselves (usually constructed by oral traditions passed down in the family). More importantly, the exhibition extends an invitation to consider identity as a process that is built every day, a matter of the present rather than a static one anchored in the past.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons‘ works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Whitney Museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, among others. She has also presented her pieces at events and venues around the world such as the Guangzhou Triennial, Dak‘Art, the Venice Biennial, the Havana Biennial, the Sharjah Biennial, the Johannesburg Biennial, and most recently at the Diriyah Biennial. She founded the projects Intermittent Rivers in Matanzas, Cuba, Engine for Art Democracy and Justice at Vanderbilt with Vanderbilt and Frist University, and When We Gather. Campos-Pons currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.



(1) Interview for the Brooklyn Museum, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyxFNPb4ht4










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