Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons is an afro-cuban woman who was born in Matanzas, Cuba where she lived and grew up in a sugar plantation town. Her Yoruba, Latinx, and Chinese cultural roots to inform her work which is heavily based around identity and diaspora.
She attended Escuela National de Arte in Habana between 1976 and 1979 and later attended Habana’s Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) to study drawing and sculpture. She is considered one of the leading figures of afro-cuban feminist art in the cuban art world, yet she is rarely talked about or recognized as such. She currently teaches in the painting department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
As a descendant of slaves, she uses imagery reminiscent of yoruba culture in regards to the history of the slave trade. In her piece, “Seven Powers come by the sea”, she uses the recognizable imagery of slave ships to represent seven Orishas of the Santeria religion.
In the 2013 Venice Biennale, Campos-Pons arranged a performance in which she showed up unannounced. The performance consisted of her painted white, “dressed in a fantastic neo-Byzantine costume combining elements of Chinese, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean attire. Like a kind of global goddess, she led an angel-band of Cuban musicians, Los Hermanos Arango, whose call-and-response music, based on traditional Yoruba chants…”
The performance captured perfectly the display of multicultural and diasporic experience. The musicians trailed her, as if they were her ancestors guiding her thru musical chants and rhythmic healing. She carried her cultures with her, displaying them as an amalgamation of worldly delights, all in one body.
“Of merging ideas, merging of ethnicities, merging of traditions… . I am as much black, Cuban, woman, Chinese. I am this tapestry of all of that, and the responses to that could be very complicated and could include even anguish and pain.”