María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ timeless stories

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Jeanne Mercier (Art Basel) writes, “Exhibited in Bamako and Miami, the Cuban artist’s work sheds light on narratives of identity and resilience.”

‘I am a storyteller – all my work is about telling stories,’ says the artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, describing her multifaceted body of work. ‘After several decades of creative practice, I can now see the thread, the link, the continuity that runs through all my work: the exploration of history and memory and their roles in the formation of identity.’

Born in La Vega, Cuba, in 1959, María Magdalena Campos-Pons now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Starting from her personal and family history, she reimagines the great dominant narratives of Western history – such as those linked to slavery and monotheistic religions – in order to create a hybrid cosmogony combining diverse traditions and rituals. Her sculptures, photographs, and performance pieces weave connections between questions of gender and sexuality, her multicultural identity (Cuban, Chinese, and Nigerian), spirituality, as well as, in the artist’s words, the intersection of ‘unspoken narratives’ and ‘resilient cultures.’ The ocean and the color blue are central to many of her works, evoking at once the trauma of the slave trade, exile, and the Yoruba religion.

Since the late 1980s, her paintings have attracted international attention. Her work has been exhibited throughout the world: at documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Venice Biennale, and the Dakar Biennale. It is currently included in ‘In the Mind’s Eye: Landscapes of Cuba’ at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami, and will soon be on view in the upcoming Sharjah Biennial.

This December, her first large retrospective will be staged as part of the 13th Rencontres de Bamako: Biennale africaine de la photographie which this year is entitled ‘Maa ka Maaya ka ca a yere kono’ (The Persons of the Person Are Multiple in the Person). This solo exhibition, curated by Dr Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and his team, will show a selection of photographic works from 1994 to 2019: massive tableaux created by bringing together numerous Polaroids in polyptychs arranged in grids. Each composite image tells a specific story through highly elaborate mise-en-scènes combining installation and performance art, painting, and sculpture. This fragmentation shatters linear and spatial chronologies, restoring the reality of diasporic narratives and identities.

At the Rencontres in Bamako, viewers will discover works that evoke stories about the transatlantic slave trade, indigo and sugar plantations, religious practices, and revolutionary uprisings, including When I’m Not Here/Estoy Allá (1997), Abridor de Caminos (Pathfinder) (1997), Nesting (2000), Dreaming of an Island (2008), and Replenishing (2001). This last piece features seven large-format Polaroids, like a modern altarpiece, and depicts the artist and her mother looking straight ahead like statues or goddesses. When the image was shot, the two women had not seen each other since 1991, the year when the daughter left for the US. Both hold multicolored strings of pearls, whose colors each correspond to a distinct Yoruba divinity. The light-blue pearls in the mother’s hands represent Yemayá, the gentle and fierce goddess of the sea. Dressed in flowing white garments like those of a Santería initiate, Campos-Pons herself holds gold and amber pearls speckled with crimson that are associated with Oshun, goddess of fertility and sexuality.

At the center of the image, the two necklaces are knotted together, physically and metaphorically linking two generations in spite of exile. This powerful double portrait epitomizes Campos-Pons’s work: telling stories about the connections that survive beyond the bounds of the ocean, the body, history. 

For the full article and stunning artwork, see

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