María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Sea and Self

January 15 – May 23, 2021

This compelling exhibition features artworks produced by María Magdalena Campos-Pons (b. 1959, Matanzas, Cuba) from the late 1990s through the present that meditate on the sea, a constant theme in the artist’s work. The selection includes photographs, photographic installations, and a new series of drawings. 

The sea looms large in the Caribbean imaginary. Derek Walcott’s poem “The Sea Is History” (1977) explains that, for the descendants of African slaves brought to the Caribbean, the sea was the keeper of memory. The first stanza of his poem reads, “Where are your monuments, your battles,/ martyrs?/ Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,/ in that grey vault. The sea. The sea/has locked them up. The sea is History.” Campos-Pons draws on this rich tradition in works such as She Always Knew of the Space In-Between (2019), which features drawings of the silhouettes of two African sculptures. But she also complicates it by making reference to the female gender, here and elsewhere. Works such as Nesting IV (2000), a panel of four large-scale Polaroids, position the artist as divided in half by the sea but remaining connected through locks of hair that unite the four parts of the composition.  

María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a world-renowned artist who is perhaps best known for her trailblazing performances on the slave trade, race, gender, identity, and Afro-Cuban religious traditions. Her work on the sea makes important contributions to art history, Caribbean Studies, and the environmental humanities. By repeatedly underscoring the ocean and thinking about it through cycles, she resists categories organized around national narratives that seek to place art in a linear continuum. Not only is the sea a site of loss and memory—a point that Caribbean thinkers have often made—it is also a mother and giver that is under threat. This exhibition celebrates Campos-Pons’ pioneering work and unique vision. 

This exhibition was conceived by Dr. Tatiana Flores, Associate Professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and the Department of Art History at Rutgers University. An expanded version of the exhibition will appear at the Haggerty Museum of Art.

The presentation of María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Sea and Self at the Haggerty Museum of Art is made possible through the generous support of Presenting Sponsor the Lacey Sadoff Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.