Critics’ Picks

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Dreaming of an Island, 2008, nine Polaroid photographs, 85 1/2 x 74 3/4" overall.


María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Spelman College Museum of Fine Art
350 Spelman Lane SW
September 10–December 6

This elegant eighteen-year survey reveals María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s versatility across a range of media. From video to installations, sculpture to photography, the Cuban-born artist has forged a body of work that celebrates the history of her relatives and explores her role in the continuation of their legacy. Both of her parents are honored in strong installations that highlight the dignity with which they did their proletarian jobs. The Herbalist’s Tools, 1994, is an homage to her father, who collected plants for use in medicinal and religious practices. Spoken Softly with Mama II, 1998–2008, a reconstitution of the notable work Campos-Pons created for New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1998, is a tribute to her mother, who was a laundress for the wealthy. These set the stage for the remaining works, most of which present Campos-Pons as the protagonist. She sings, narrates stories, and poses in pieces that exude a pride and sense of identity instilled in her as a child. A few of the newer works, such as the large, nine-panel Polaroid grid Dreaming of an Island, 2008, temper the independent and self-assured nature of the work with a glimpse of the isolation and loneliness she feels as an exile residing in the United States. The combination of strength and vulnerability gives the autobiographical work a powerful authenticity.