“I see performance art as a very, very early form of knowledge. . . . Performance is so intrinsic to what we are as humans that it is perhaps the nature of all our forms, the one that is most embedded and exists in many parts of our lives.”
Caro Fowler speaks with María Magdalena Campos-Pons, a renowned artist and the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University. Magda recounts her early progressive education and the deeply-felt exchange of ideas she has experienced with her mentors and other women artists, and how she carries that generosity forward in her own teaching. She discusses how performance art may address transformations of the human body, whether through processes of aging or technological prosthetics, and reflects on her decision to document her performances (or not). Throughout the interview, Magda returns to the long and elemental force of performance on the formation of human knowledge, community, and creativity, including now in our everyday experiences navigating COVID-19.
María Magdalena Campos-Pons taught at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana in the late 1980s and gained an international reputation as an exponent of the new Cuban art movement that arose in opposition to communist repression on the island. She has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Peabody Essex Museum, and National Gallery of Canada, among others, and has presented over thirty solo performances commissioned by institutions including the Guggenheim and the National Portrait Gallery. She has also participated in the Venice Biennale, Dakar Biennale, Johannesburg Biennial, Documenta 14, the Guangzhou Triennial, and is included in Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA and Prospect.4 Triennial. In 2019 she served as Artist-Curator for the 13th Havana Biennial.
This conversation was recorded on July 8, 2020. Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt University
María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Angel’s Trumpets, Devil’s Bells, 2019. Composition of 9, mixed media on Arches archival paper, 40 x 26 in. each (101.6 x 66 cm). Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris
Performance documentation of Remedios, in María Magdalena Campos-Pons: If I Were A Poet, 2018. Courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Neil Leonard, 53+1=54+1=55. Letter of the Year, 2013. A commissioned, site-specific multimedia installation created for the 55th Venice Biennale contemporary art exhibition in Italy, displayed in the Cuban Pavilion. Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris
María Magdalena Campos-Pons presents an artist talk as part of the colloquium The Object of Performance at the Clark Art Institute, November 2019. Photo: Caitlin Woolsey
María Magdalena Campos-Pons with Ming Washington and Destinee Filmore, undergraduates from Spelman College, discussing the exhibition Suffering from Realness at MASS MoCA as part of the colloquium The Object of Performance at the Clark Art Institute, November 2019. Photo: Caitlin Woolsey