María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Multidisciplinary Artist Class of 2023
Portrait of María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Exploring personal and collective histories across the Caribbean with a distinctive and expansive visual style.

About María’s Work

María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a multidisciplinary artist exploring how memory, spirituality, and identity are entangled with personal and collective histories across the Caribbean. Campos-Pons’s artistic practice spans photography, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, and video, and her works often take the form of richly layered, multi-media installations. She forges connections between her own experiences as a Cuban woman and global issues of displacement and inequality.

For The Seven Powers Came by the Sea (1992), Campos-Pons inscribed seven wooden boards shaped like a ship’s hull with stick figures representing the bodies of enslaved Africans and the name of a deity from the Yoruba religion. The invocation of the deities consecrates the space the installation inhabits and references rituals lost to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In another early work, Replenishing (2003), Campos-Pons created a wall-based installation comprised of seven large-format Polaroid photographs of herself and her mother. The photographs represent Campos-Pons and her mother in three images each, showing the upper, middle, and lower portions of their bodies. Dividing their bodies into three components disprupts a linear narrative, but each woman holds a strand of colored beads, pictured in a seventh photograph positioned between them, invoking connection across boundaries of time and space. Campos-Pons’s ambitious installation, Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits (2015), draws on memories of her childhood home in a former slave barracks in Mantazas, Cuba. For the work, she configured cast and blown glass vessels into larger assemblages that recall the machinery of sugar mills and rum distilleries, two industries inextricably entwined with the history of slavery on the island. The ocean and water are recurring motifs across Campos-Pons’s imagery. For her 2019 series Un Pedazo de Mar, Campos-Pons uses gouache, watercolor, and ink to create watery blue expanses that are punctuated by figures of humans and sea creatures. The pieces remember the many people who died during the Middle Passage but also show water as a source of life and regeneration.

Beyond her own artistic practice, Campos-Pons establishes platforms for other artists to advance and exhibit their work. She is the founder and director of the Engine for Art, Democracy & Justice, an organization that connects institutions and artists from the U.S. South and the global South and supports creative work that resists and repairs legacies of inequality. Through her expansive approach to materials, themes, and imagery, Campos-Pons is nourishing and enriching the visual vocabulary of the Caribbean.


María Magdalena Campos-Pons received degrees from the National School of Art, Havana (1980) and the Higher Institute of Art, Havana (1985) and attended the MFA program (1988) at the Massachusetts College of Art. She held the Bunting Fellowship in Visual Arts at Harvard University in 1993–1994. She currently serves as the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair and Professor of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University, where she founded the Engine for Art, Democracy & Justice Program. She also launched Intermittent Rivers, a multi-artist initiative in Matanzas, Cuba, as part of the 2019 Havana Biennial. Her work has been presented at venues including the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University; Peabody Essex Museum; National Portrait Gallery; Museum of Modern Art; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; List Visual Arts Center, MIT; Pérez Art Museum; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Johannesburg Biennial; Gwangju Biennale; Documenta; Venice Biennale; and the Brooklyn Museum.

Published on October 4, 2023

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