Crystal Bridges recently acquired a work on paper by Cuban American artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons. The work, titled When I am Not Here/Estoy Allá (1997), is a vertical triptych that connects three large-format Polaroids, each visualizing several layers of meaning and ideas from the artist.
In this work (and part of her larger series), Campos-Pons explores the distance between her home in the United States and her homeland of Cuba. The pattern of blue and white seen in the handmade gingham dress in the top panel is an homage to Yemaya, the Orisha goddess of the ocean and motherhood, who’s traditionally represented with these colors (a choice that was also made by artist Shizu Saldamando for Martin’s Cincuentañera).
The pattern of blue and white continues through the composition, as seen in the artist’s hair and background in the middle panel and the abstracted patterns in the bottom panel. Campos-Pons also hand-carved the six wooden boats she cradles in her arms in the middle panel, like one might imagine the Goddess of the Ocean would do. Conceptually, the tie to the ocean is connected to her relationship to migration and displacement: having her heart and home both in Matanzas, Cuba and the United States.
The work is currently on display in the exhibition María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Sea and Self at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It will be coming to Crystal Bridges soon.
For the better part of 40 years, María Magdalena Campos-Pons has been at the forefront of the discourse of Afro-Latinx artists from the Caribbean. She was born in 1959, in La Vega, Cuba, in the province of Matanzas, and grew up on a sugar plantation. Her heritage is distinctive—a mixture of Latinx, Nigerian, and Chinese—undoubtedly reflective of the imprint of colonialism in the Americas. Campos-Pons completed her MFA in Painting and Media Arts at the Massachusetts College of Art and emigrated to the United States in 1991, settling in Boston. She represented Cuba in the 2013 Venice Biennial, participated in documenta14, and has won numerous awards, including Anonymous Was a Woman (2018), Women of Courage, Boston, and the Hispanic Alianza Award, Nashville (2011), among others. Just this week, it was announced that Campos-Pons was the recipient of the third annual Pérez Prize from the Pérez Art Museum Miami. She is the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Fine Arts, Drawing, Performance, Installation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Written by Allison Glenn, associate curator, contemporary art, Crystal Bridges.