María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a Nashville-based artist who grew up in Matanzas, Cuba in a family with Nigerian, Spanish, and Chinese lineage. Through her installations, painting, photography, performance, and video, she explores dislocation, femininity, identity, longing, and spirituality. Campos-Pons is the Vanderbilt Cornelius Endowed Chair of Fine Arts Drawing, Performance, and Installation at Vanderbilt University.
The Museum of Modern Art presented Campos-Pons’ evocative multimedia installation Spoken Softly with Mama in 1998. It was then featured in Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art acquired the second version, Spoken Softly with Mama II, in 2011 in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Both iterations evoke Campos-Pons’ mother and three generations of her matrilineage. Incorporating video projections, stylized ironing boards, and pâte de verre (a decorative glass made in a mold) irons, the artist conjures the intimate presence of female relatives, time-consuming domestic chores, and their shared experience of laboring over items that they could not afford. Curator Sally Berger described Spoken Softly with Mama as an installation in which Campos-Pons exchanged the ordinary materials that the women used for “fine wood, glass, and translucent fabric to signify the transcendence of their endeavors and the innate fragility of human relationships.” Spoken Softly with Mama II is an affirmation of resilience, strength, inspiration, affirmation, and joy.