María Magdalena Campos Pons: getting out of the ocean to get back in

El Caribe / dossier / Julio de 2021

Yina Jiménez Suriel

Arte de: María Magdalena Campos Pons

Traducción de: Ana Laura Magis Weinberg


There is a mountain in the Caribbean that is an amphibian body —it emerges from the ocean and unites what used to be two independent islands before going back into the water to become a subaquatic mountain range and touch the Central American isthmus. Its highest peaks were the main geographical location from which the cimarrona communities plotted ideas of autonomy and emancipation, running away from the plantations and the sugar mills in the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The so-called Sierra de Bahoruco/Massif de la Hotte/Massif de la Selle is a repository of memories where radical futures were once imagined. Futures left behind by our grandmothers (ancestras) —as Christina Sharpe says— when they suffered violence and learnt to travel to the future through matter, merging their bodies with rocks, with water, with earth, with minerals, with plants… with soundscapes: memories that today we can access through bodies of work such as that of María Magdalena Campos Pons. Amphibian-ness is at the same time a strategy and a tool in the work of this Cuban artist that allows us to approach the consciousness of the ephemeral, the exchange of knowledge and the management of connections as key aspects for the emancipation, sought by the enslaved African populations of the insular Caribbean. The territory, the mountains, the plains, the valleys—they all tell stories. The artist has created artifacts and visual events, like Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits (Unit 1), for us to encounter those stories. The work of María Magdalena is like so many Caribbean mountains that emerge from the ocean to the surface and then disappear into it to create bonds and contribute to the freedom of all living beings. Because, in spite of colonialism and its extractivistic culture, natural forces are still free and roaming: our ancestors are still free and roaming.

_Freedom Trap_, 2013. Fotografía Polaroid Polacolor Pro, 24 x 20 pulgadas (61 x 50.8 cm) Freedom Trap, 2013. Polaroid Polacolor Pro 24 x 20 photograph, 24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm)

_Bin Bin Lady, The Papaya_, 2007. Composición de cuatro fotografías Polaroid Polacolor Pro de 24 x 20 pulgadas, imagen final 48 x 40 pulgadas (121.92 x 101.6 cm) Bin Bin Lady, The Papaya, 2007. Composition of 4 Polaroid Polacolor Pro 24 x 20 photographs, 48 x 40 inches (121.92 x 101.6cm)

_Classic Creole_, 2003. Composición de nueve fotografías Polaroid Polacolor Pro cada una de 24 x 20 pulgadas (60.7 x 50.8 cm) Classic Creole, 2003. Composition of 9 Polaroid Polacolor Pro 24 x 20 photographs, 24 x 20 inches each (60.7 x 50.8 cm each)

_Alchemy of the Soul: Maria Magdalena Campos Pons_, 2016. Vista de instalación, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, Estados Unidos Alchemy of the Soul: Maria Magdalena Campos Pons, 2016. Installation view, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

_Blue Refuge_, 2008. Composición de nueve impresiones Polaroid por transferencia con infusión de tinta, cada una de 24 x 20 pulgadas (60.7 x 50.8 cm) Blue Refuge, 2008. Nine dye diffusion transfer (polaroid) prints, 24 x 20 inches each

_Five Apparitions_ de la serie “Un pedazo de mar”, 2019. Acuarela, gouache y tinta sobre papel, 66 x 84 cm Five Apparitions from the series “Un pedazo de mar”, 2019. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 25 5/16 x 33 inches (66 x 84 cm)

_Replenishing_, 2001. Composición de siete fotografías Polaroid Polacolor Pro cada una de 20 x 24 (60.7 x 50.8 cm) Replenishing, 2001. Composition of seven Polaroid Polacolor Pro 20 x 24 photographs. Frame: approx. 6 ft. x 5 ft

Cover image: FeFa, 2013. Performance, 2013, Cuban Pavillion, Venice Biennale, San Marco, Venice, Italy

Images courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco