Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island on Viet at Spelman College

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Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island on Viet at Spelman College
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, De Las Dos Aguas, 2007, 12 Polaroid Polacolor Pro, 20 X 24 in. Photographs courtesy Drs. Mark.

ATLANTA, GA.- “Dreaming of an Island,” a multi-panel Polaroid by acclaimed Afro-Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, is one of many thought-provoking works featured in an exhibition that opens at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art on Sept. 10, 2008.

"Throughout her distinguished 20-year career, Campos-Pons has created works that examine personal and national identity, cultural complexities and socioeconomic politics.

Throughout her distinguished career Campos-Pons has explored her self-imposed exile from Cuba and her experiences as an Afro-Cuban woman living in America.”

Incorporating mixed-media installations, video and large-format Polaroid photographs, "Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island" explores Campos-Pons' self-imposed exile from Cuba and her experiences as an Afro-Cuban woman living in America. On display until Dec. 6, this is the artist's first solo exhibition in Atlanta.

Curated by the museum's director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph. D., "Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island" furthers the museum's unique mission to focus on works by and about women of the African Diaspora.

One of the highlights of "Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island" is the multimedia installation titled "Spoken Softly With Mama," which was first presented at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998 and then later at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. This evocative work centers on Campos-Pons' mother and three generations of female relatives. It personifies this group of women through the tools used to perform domestic work by which they earned a living. Incorporating video performance footage, stylized ironing boards, pâte de verre irons, trivets and folded, embroidered white sheets, the artist conjures and honors the intimate presence of female relatives and their shared experience of laboring over items that they could not afford.

Like many of Campos-Pons’ works, “Spoken Softly With Mama” honors the women in her family while calling to mind Afro-Cuban domestic labor in general, longing, strength, uprootedness and resilience. Campos-Pons revisited this important work and created this special version for presentation in Atlanta. Other important works featured in the exhibition include: “The Other Side,” “Umbilical Cord” and “De Los Dos Aguas.”

Major support for “María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Dreaming of an Island” is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners under the guidance of the Fulton County Arts Council. Additional support provided by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons will present a gallery walk on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 p.m. This special event promises to be one of the highlights of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, the citywide festival featuring events, exhibition and programs focusing on photography. The museum is also planning a series of exhibition-related public programs centering on contemporary art, race and gender, designed to appeal to families, art enthusiasts and general audiences that examine Campos-Pons work.

Born in Mantanzas, Cuba, in 1959, María Magdalena Campos-Pons grew up in La Vega, a small sugar plantation town. She was raised among the first generation of Cuban children educated after the Cuban Revolution and benefited from Cuba’s newly formed art education system. At age 13, Campos-Pons began her art education at the National School of Art, where she studied from 1976 to 1979. Between 1980 and 1985, she attended the Graduate Institute of Art (ISA) in Havana, where she joined Cuba’s most talented emerging artists who were creating contemporary work in dialogue with the global art world.

Campos-Pons gained international recognition in the late 1980s with a series of painted abstract reliefs dealing with female sexuality. During this period, described by one scholar as the “Cuban Renaissance,” artists were increasingly using art as a form of social criticism and showing their work in important international exhibitions. Campos-Pons participated in many of these shows in Germany, Australia, Great Britain and the United States. In 1990, she left Cuba to participate in a fellowship in Banff, Canada, and in 1991 moved to Boston where she currently resides.

Since then, her work—which increasingly has taken the form of mixed media installation and large-scale photography—is a dynamic model of inventive Diasporic identity that hinges on reassembling lost fragments, symbols and memories of personal and collective history, religion and mythology. Many of her paintings, installations and photographs deploy the artist’s body in its entirety or fragmented into parts, creating a formal language that addresses the challenges inherent in building a coherent identity in the modern world.

Campos-Pons states, “I am interested in rituals and traditions, how to place them into the contemporary setting. African tradition is my everyday life experience. I don’t have to search for my roots. . . I believe it’s possible to live in America and at the same time, in Cuba spiritually and mentally.” The artist’s work testifies to the fact that identity is contradictory, flexible and mobile. Her work shares a formal sensibility with African American artists Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems. Often confronting stereotypes about black women and incorporating photographs of the black female body, text and in serial format, Campos-Pons often investigates the meaning of black female identity in an Afro-Cuban context.

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