Friday May 25, 2018

Obama by Campos-Pons

Cuban artist Magdalena Campos-Pons re-interprets the hopeful image of President Obama

Magdalena Campos-Pons, Prayer for Obama II, 2008

When Barack Obama assumed the US presidency, it raised Cubans´expectations about possible changes in the relations between the two countries. Various US initiatives have positively influenced cultural relations, including the authorization of Cuban-US families to visit Cuba, the exhibition Chelsea Visits La Habana, presented at the National Museum of Fine Arts in April-June 2009, and the granting of US visas to outstanding Cuban artists such as Omara Portuondo, Carlos Varela and Los Van Van. However, Obama, as a charismatic figure, had so far not influenced the creations of Cuban visual artists.

The exception is Magdalena Campos-Pons (born in Matanzas province, 1959), a Cuban artist living in the US. A graduate of the Cuban Higher Institute of Art and the Massachusetts College of Arts, Campos-Pons has worked in many different mediums, from painting and photography to video and installation art. In her work, she explores her experiences as an Afro-Cuban woman, as well as her family history and memories. A traveling retrospective of her art premiered at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2007.

In Hope, Yes We Can, her recent exhibition at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami, Campos-Pons gives warm affirmation to the new president. Taken on the morning of election day (November 4, 2008), Prayer for Obama, a series of large-scale Polaroid photographs, records Campos-Pons in a performance on behalf of the then-hopeful candidate, in movements that recall African dances and the rituals of Santería. Other large-scale Polaroid images explore the Chinese roots of her family (My Mother Told Me I Am Chinese: Painting Lesson) and reflect on soldiers killed in the US war in Iraq (Mourning Bouquet).

Undoubtedly, Campos-Pons’s creativity feeds the political scope of the current Cuban art. Obama´s evocation by Campos has so far received no public objection in Miami, where the Cuban group Charanga Habanera will soon appear to sing its latest record, “Yo gozando en La Habana, tu llorando en Miami” (I am enjoying here in Havana and you are crying in Miami).