The Farber Collection
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María Magdalena Campos-Pons

About María Magdalena Campos-Pons

b. 1959, resides in the United States

The late 1980s witnessed the emergence of several women artists, virtually all of them graduates of the national system of art education. Cuba already had Amelia Peláez (1896-1968) in the 1930s and Antonia Eiriz (1929-1995) in the 1960s as outstanding examples; but for the first time art critics identified a distinct discourse on the female condition. Artists such as Ana Albertina Delgado, Marta María Pérez, Elsa Mora, Sandra Ramos, and Magdalena Campos-Pons were interested in expressing personal matters within a strong social context—turning intimacy inside out, as it were, transforming it into an extroversion without limits. Campos-Pons in particular ventured further down this road, defying the representations promulgated by Cuban literature, advertising, and folk music since the 1800s, which depicted black women as victims and sexual icons.

Campos-Pons’s creativity surfaced in the mid-1980s with sculptural reliefs that celebrated the physicality and sexuality of her own body. Deliberately stripping away any sense of sanctity or mystification, she created visual metaphors from slang expressions referring to genitalia, at the same time reworking sexual themes embedded in the myths of Western culture. Gradually her work expanded its thematic range. In Soy una fuente (I Am A Fountain, 1990, Farber Collection), she challenged the 19th-century medical texts that explained, in “scientific” terms, the insufficiencies of the “weaker” sex. She depicted various “female” organs happily functioning alongside their corresponding fluids: tears, blood, milk. The eternal feminine mystery was dispelled by Campos-Pons’ intentionally naïve imagery and palette of intense colors.

In Everything is Separated by Water (1990), the dislocations of the artist’s body symbolized the traumatic experiences “imprinted” on Cubans and Americans under the political context common to both countries. A year later, at the Fourth Havana Biennial, the installation Tra… (1991) explicitly addressed the exploitation, trafficking in, and killing of African peoples in the Americas and in Cuba. Working with installations integrating everyday objects and video projections has permitted Campos-Pons to revisit personal, familial, and cultural memories in such pieces as Tablas de planchar (Ironing Boards, 1994).

Campos-Pons has shown remarkable flexibility in her use of diverse mediums—installation, video, performance photographs—to explore different lines of creative inquiry. In this, she is like the most recent generation of Cuban artists, who are not confined by the limits of their disciplines, as Clement Greenberg-style modernism would dictate. Instead, they subordinate the medium to the complexity of Conceptual ideas and textures, practicing a post-Conceptualism enriched by a high degree of tropical inventiveness.

Estudio… joins a body of performance photography work, generated throughout the past decade by female Cuban artists such as Elsa Mora, Cirenaica Morera, Glenda Léon, and Marta María Pérez (a pioneer of this form). Consisting of six Polaroid images, the piece was executed as a sketch for Elevata, a work similar in style to Constelación (Constellation) and Rapsodia (Rhapsody), both also completed in 2002.

With minimal expressive means, Campos creates works of complex connotative power. In Estudio…, the medium and the body have been fused in a highly symbolic image, apparently excavated from some dreamlike space. In the Western tradition, the genre of the female nude was based on the detailed observation of the body by a masculine eye, with an interior view—generally the artist’s studio—serving as stage and enclosure for the intimate revelation.

In this work, Campos’s naked body turns its back to the viewer. It resists being possessed by the gaze. Large, diluted, out-of-focus watercolors serve as the background. The nude achieves an ethereal quality, far from any sociological context and in frank protest against previous conventions of the Afro-Cuban theme. The multiple frames work together as a space isolated from time—a negation of reality, where every element assumes a metaphoric role. Hair extensions float weightlessly like cellular tentacles or roots. The chain of stereotypes around the black female body has been abruptly dissolved, and the self-portrait is revealed as a terrain of conflict.

                                                —Abelardo Mena Chicuri