María Magdalena Campos-Pons combines and crosses diverse artistic practices, including photography, painting, sculpture, film, video, and performance. Her work addresses issues of history, memory, gender, and religion; it investigates how each one of these themes informs identity formation.
Born in 1959 in La Vega, a town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba, Campos-Pons is a descendant of Nigerians who had been brought to the island as enslaved people in the 19th century. She grew up learning firsthand about the legacy of slavery along with the beliefs of Santeria, a Yoruba-derived religion. Directly informed by the traditions, rituals, and practices of her ancestors, her work is deeply autobiographical. Often using herself and her Afro-Cuban relatives as subjects, she creates historical narratives that illuminate the spirit of people and places, past and present, and renders universal relevance from personal history and persona. Her imagery and performances recall dark narratives of the Middle Passage and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
They honor the labor of Black bodies on indigo and sugar plantations, renew Catholic and Santeria religious practices, and celebrate revolutionary uprisings in the Americas. As she writes, “I…collect and tell stories of forgotten people in order to foster a dialogue to better understand and propose a poetic, compassionate reading of our time.”
Campos-Pons has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada, among other distinguished institutions. She has participated in the Venice Biennale (2013, 2001), the Dakar Biennale, the Johannesburg Biennial, Documenta 14, the Guangzhou Triennial, three editions of the Havana Biennial, and the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA and Prospect.4 Triennial. She has presented over 30 solo performances commissioned by institutions including the Guggenheim Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
Every element that appears in María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ performance work is something that the artist herself has created. She designs her own costumes. She writes the texts that she or her collaborators will speak or chant. She fabricates the physical items that she will deploy and constructs the sonic features by which she will be accompanied. The power of her performances—unprecedented actions that immerse contemporary viewers in ancient practices and unremembered narratives—is derived precisely from her commitment to and investment in every aspect of her work.
Campos-Pons’ performances tend to unfold as processions. They are ritualistic spectacles that physically and spiritually embody the spaces in which they take place while asserting themselves outward and beyond the boundaries of those spaces. They are simultaneously immanent and transcendent. Operating within the museum institution, they kick open its doors and reinscribe within its halls identities that have been institutionally excluded, thereby transforming both the institution and the visitor. Incorporating incantations, religious rituals, and celebrations, Campos-Pons’ performances challenge viewers to participate by virtue of their presence while providing opportunities for all present to reflect, to call forth energies, and to heal.
In the late 1980s, Campos-Pons taught at the prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and gained an international reputation as an exponent of the New Cuban Art movement that arose in opposition to Communist repression on the island. In 1991, she immigrated to Boston and taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, where she received numerous prizes and honors for both her teaching and her artistic practice. In 2017, she was awarded the Vanderbilt Chair at Vanderbilt University and moved to Nashville, TN, where she currently resides.
Campos-Pons’ works are in over 30 museum collections, including the Smithsonian Institution; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Canada; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Perez Art Museum, Miami; and the Fogg Art Museum.
Okwui Okpokwasili is a Brooklyn-based performing artist working at the intersection of theater, dance, and installation. Her work considers the dynamics of interiority and psychic space in shaping relationships, sociality, and memory grounded in the body and perspective of the Afro-femme. With Director/Designer Peter Born, Okpokwasili creates collaborative multidisciplinary projects including the Bessie Award-winning Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance, Bessie Award-winning Bronx Gothic, and Bronx Gothic: The Oval, Poor People’s TV Room, Poor People’s TV Room Solo, When I Return Who Will Receive Me, and Adaku’s Revolt. Over the last few years, Okpokwasili has been working on Sitting On A Man’s Head, a collaborative, improvisational sonic praxis with multiple artists inspired by the precolonial embodied protest practices of Southeastern Nigerian women called Sitting On A Man. The last iteration of this practice was an anchoring event in the Danspace Platform: Utterances from the Chorus, which she co-curated along with the team lead by Judy Hussie-Taylor at Danspace Project in NYC.
As a performer, Okpokwasili frequently collaborates with award-winning director Ralph Lemon. She is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, a 2015–2017 Randjelovic/Stryker New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist, a 2018 Princeton University Hodder Fellow, and is currently a UNC Chapel Hill CPA fellow. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a Doris Duke Artist Award, United States Artist Fellowship, Herb Alpert Award, and Foundation for Contemporary Art Award. Her performance work has been commissioned and presented by the Walker Art Center, Danspace Project, Performance Space New York, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, MCA Chicago, ICA Boston, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the 10th Annual Berlin Biennale, The Young Vic (London), Jacob’s Pillow, and New York Live Arts.
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs A writer, vocalist, and performance/sound artist, she is the author of TwERK (Belladonna, 2013). Diggs has presented and performed at California Institute of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, The Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, and at festivals including Explore the North Festival, Leeuwarden, Netherlands; Hekayeh Festival, Abu Dhabi; International Poetry Festival of Copenhagen; Ocean Space, Venice; International Poetry Festival of Romania; Question of Will, Slovakia; Poesiefestival, Berlin; and the 2015 Venice Biennale. As an independent curator, artistic director, and producer, Diggs has presented events for BAMCafé, Black Rock Coalition, El Museo del Barrio, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and the David Rubenstein Atrium. Diggs has received a 2020 C.D. Wright Award for Poetry from the Foundation of Contemporary Art, a Whiting Award (2016), and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship (2015), as well as grants and fellowships from Cave Canem, Creative Capital, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the US-Japan Friendship Commission, among others.
Lisa E. Harris is an interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, creative soprano, performer, composer, improviser, writer, singer/songwriter, and educator from Houston, Texas. Recognized by the Huffington Post as “one of fourteen artists transforming Opera,” Harris focuses on the energetic relationships between body, land, spirit, and place. Using voice, theremin, movement, meditation, and new media to explore spatial awareness, relationality, panoptical surveillance, and sonic profiling, she maintains a focused concentration on healing in performance and living. She is the founder and creative director of Studio Enertia, an arts collective and production company in Houston. Studio Enertia is the producer of Harris’ recently completed ten-year durational work, Cry of the Third Eye, a new opera film in Three Acts that archives the effects of gentrification on her Houston neighborhood. She recently created and curated Houston’s inaugural Free Time Flow Festival at MacGregor Park, celebrating the intersections of basketball, electro-acoustic music, and improvisational performance. She can be heard on her much-anticipated release EarthSeed, a live performance album based on the writings of Octavia Butler, composed with Nicole Mitchell on FPE records. Harris is also often featured as the lead singer with Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party. She has performed at numerous jazz festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival and Newport Jazz Festival, among others.
Samita Sinha is a vocalist, performer, composer, and educator who creates multidisciplinary performance works that investigate origins of voice. She synthesizes Indian vocal traditions and embodied energetic practices to create a decolonized, multivalent language of vibration and transformation. Sinha’s works have been commissioned by Asia Society, Performance Space 122, Invisible Dog Art Center, Danspace Project, Rubin Museum, Queens Museum, Gibney, and Onassis Foundation, and presented by The Kitchen, Wexner Center for the Arts, REDCAT, PICA, National Sawdust, and others. She has received awards from National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright Foundation, National Performance Network, New York State Council on the Arts, and the Ucross/Alpert Residency Prize, and collaborated across disciplines with artists including Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born, Ralph Lemon, Sunny Jain, and Grey Mcmurray, Sunil Bald, and Sekou Sundiata. Sinha teaches voice through many channels, recently through Danspace, Princeton University, Swarthmore College, Movement Research, Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico City, and New York Asian Women’s Center.
Jana Harper (Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians) is an interdisciplinary artist of mixed settler and Indigenous ancestry. Her work explores the themes and tensions between materiality and transcendence, chance encounters and human willfulness, relationships and connectivity, and human acts of meaning-making. With a background in somatic practices, Harper works both individually and collaboratively towards establishing conditions for healing. Recent performance projects include Cargas, the closing event for Intermittent Rivers at the 2019 Havana Biennial, and This Holding, which was supported by a National Endowment for the Arts award. Harper is Associate Professor of the practice in the Department of Art at Vanderbilt University.
Dell Marie Hamilton is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and independent curator who has performed and presented extensively in and around New England, including at Boston University, the Museum of Fine Arts/Boston, ICA/Boston, and at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art. She has also appeared in collaborative performances with Afro-Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. In 2019, Dell presented her first solo show, All Languages Welcomed HERE, at Salem State University, which was reviewed by NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art. She also became the first visual artist to present a performance artwork at the Clark Art Institute. Last summer, she participated in the 13th Havana Biennial as part of Campos-Pons’s curatorial project Intermittent Rivers. Her most recent curatorial project Nine Moments for Now was ranked by Hyperallergic as one of 2018’s top 20 exhibitions in the U.S.
Codie Elaine Oliver is a CEO and co-founder of Black Love, Inc., a growing media company comprised of BlackLove.com, Black Love’s social and digital platforms, and live and virtual events that include the annual Black Love Summit. She is the director and co-creator of the groundbreaking docuseries, Black Love, which premiered as the most-viewed unscripted series in OWN’s history and is set to return for its fifth season in 2021. Oliver is also a partner at Confluential Content, a company she shares with her husband Tommy Oliver, and the production company behind the recent HBO Documentary 40 Years A Prisoner and the upcoming Netflix film The Perfect Find, starring Gabrielle Union. Prior to Black Love, Oliver had stints at Film Independent, Fox Searchlight, and Creative Artists Agency. Oliver received her master’s degree from the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC and is a proud Howard University alum, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and mama to three boys four and under, practicing every day to find balance between entrepreneurship and family.
Meg Neville is a costume designer, visual artist, and writer. She has collaborated with María Magdalena Campos-Pons on costumes for performances including If I were a poet with Wendi Norris Gallery in San Francisco. As a theatrical costume designer, she has worked with venues including BAM, The Public, Second Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Theater Festival, Yale Repertory Theater, Hartford Stage, Center Stage, The Guthrie, and The Kirk Douglas Theater, Los Angeles. Nelville has had long fruitful collaborations with Bay Area theaters, including Berkeley Repertory Theater, The Magic, and California Shakespeare Theater. With Berkeley Repertory Theater, she has designed costumes for many plays, including the premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Becky Nurse of Salem, directed by Anne Kaufman, which will open at Lincoln Center in 2021. Other productions include Party People directed by Liesl Tommy (also at The Public), the US premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice with Les Waters (Yale Rep and Second Stage), MacBeth directed by Daniel Sullivan starring Frances McDormand, among others. As a creative consultant, Neville has done historical costume research for the de Young Museum’s costume and textile departments and for independent film documentaries. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama. She is a recipient of a Bay Area costume design award.