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Cuban-born Artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ Photographs and Multi-Media Works Tell Story of the Survival of African Cultures

Exhibition opens Oct. 7 in Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery

NASHVILLE, TENN. – (August 24, 2011) – The Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery features the work of Cuban-born artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons in an exhibition entitled Journeys from Oct. 7, 2011-January 8, 2012.

Campos-Pons is recognized for her photographs and multi-media installations that poignantly explore her personal history as well as collective ethnic, racial, national, and sexual identities. Her work symbolically follows the African diaspora from her family’s origin in Nigeria to Cuba, where they worked in the sugar industry, to present day Boston, where Campos-Pons now lives and teaches art.

“Magda’s work tells a powerful story of struggle and survival by evoking rituals, myths and narratives that have evolved over numerous generations,” said Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez. “Though the inspiration is her own family’s journey, the compelling images and ideas about identity behind them are meant to resonate with a broader audience. She also uses her work to reveal histories often ignored or undervalued in official narratives.”

Spoken Softly with Mama (1998), an installation composed of photographs and videos projected onto ironing boards, embroidered folded linens, and cast glass irons, is an evocative meditation on the contributions of women’s labor—in their own homes as well as their employers’—and the stories shared during these potentially intimate times together. . There is a sense of longing in the work, not only for a nurturing and perhaps less complicated time, but for the people themselves who are now removed from the artist by death or displacement.

Campos-Pons moves from personal narrative to collective experience in a new piece, Sugar/Bittersweet, that reflects on the Cuban sugar industry. The installation is composed of African spears encircled by disks of raw sugar and cast glass set into antique African and Chinese wooden stools. The forms suggest both a field of tall, slender sugar cane and the upright figures of the hundreds of thousands of Africans, including the artist’s great- grandfather, who were brought to Cuba to work in the slave-based labor system.

De Las Dos Aguas is an assemblage of twelve large-format Polaroid photographs reflects the journeys across two bodies of water taken by the artist and her ancestors to new lands. Standing in front of a bright blue backdrop reminiscent of the clear Caribbean waters, Campos-Pons holds a carved wooden boat with four passengers that symbolize Yoruban deities as well as the millions of other people affected by global displacement.

Activities at Vanderbilt University
In conjunction with the exhibition at the Frist Center, Campos-Pons will participate in a residency at Vanderbilt University from October 10 through 18 as a Visiting Resource Professor through the Center for Latin American Studies. While at Vanderbilt, she will participate in a K-12 teacher workshop and will work with closely with Senior Art majors to produce a multidisciplinary performance piece that will take place throughout campus and involve students, faculty and staff.

From October 12–December 8, 2011, the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery will also host an exhibition of work by Campos-Pons. María Magdalena Campos-Pons: MAMA/RECIPROCAL ENERGY will feature five large-scale, mixed-media drawings that the artist created as a means to explore themes central to her practice such as identity, exile and displacement as an Afro-Cuban artist living in America. In addition, the exhibition will feature drawings that address specific performances the artist has presented over the course of her career including a collaborative work she created with her son. Also included will be a three channel video from 2003 titled Interiority or Hill-Sided Moon.

On October 12 at 5:30pm in Cohen Memorial Hall on the Vanderbilt Campus ,Campos-Pons will anchor a roundtable entitled “Exile, Memory and Identity: A Conversation on Race in Cuba with María Magdalena Campos Pons” with Historian Jane Landers, Art Historian Vivien Fryd, and Professor of Spanish William Luis. Immediately following the roundtable, a reception to mark the opening of MAMA/RECIPROCAL ENERGY will take place in the atrium of Cohen Memorial Hall, adjacent to the Fine Arts Gallery. These events are free and open to the public.

Campos-Pons’ residency at Vanderbilt is a collaboration between CLAS, the Department of Art, the Fine Arts Gallery, the Curb Center, the Department of History of Art, the Program for African American and Diaspora Studies, the Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional details are a available at CLAS website:

About María Magdalena Campos-Pons

María Magdalena Campos-Pons was born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1959. She attended the Escuela Nacional de Arte and the Instituto Superior de Arte before studies as an exchange student at the Massachusetts College of Art brought her to the U.S. in 1988. She has lived and worked in Boston since 1991.

A cross collaboration with musician, composer and husband, Neil Leonard, that started in 1988, has complemented and enriched the scope of Campos-Pons’ work. Together they founded GASP, a lab and studio for the 21st century. She has lectured widely, from the Tate Modern to the Brooklyn Museum and the School of Art in Dakar.

Campos-Pons has been exhibited internationally since 1984 when she won the Honorable Mention at the XVIII Cagnes-sur-Mer Painting Competition in France, and the Bunting Fellowship in Visual Arts at Harvard 1993; solo shows followed at MoMA, the Venice Biennale 2001, Johannesburg Biennial, the First Liverpool Biennial, the Dak’ART Biennial in Senegal;
most recently the Guangzhou Triennial in China hosted her work. A 20-year retrospective of
Campos-Pons’ work, Everything is Separated by Water: María Magdalena Campos-Pons, opened in Indianapolis in 2006 and traveled to the Bass Museum in Miami.

She currently teaches painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Exhibition Credit

This exhibition was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.


Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery Sponsor: Morgan Keegan

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Related Public Program

Friday, October 14 Performance by María Magdalena Campos-Pons
6:00 p.m.
Free; seating is first come, first served

María Magdalena Campos-Pons will present an intimate performance art piece at the Frist Center in relation to her exhibition Journeys, on view in the Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery from October 7, 2011 to January 8, 2012. The Cuban-born Campos-Pons creates photographs, video and multimedia installations that tell the story of the survival of African cultures by evoking rites, myths and narratives that have evolved through generations. Her work symbolically follows the history of the slave trade by drawing on her own family’s origin in Nigeria then to Cuba, where she was born and where her ancestors worked as slaves in the sugar industry, to present-day Boston, where Campos-Pons now teaches art.

About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $10.00 for adults and $7.00 for seniors, military and college students with ID. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5–9 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3247.The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

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