María Magdalena Campos-Pons is an artist whose genius I always try to absorb by staying near it. One piece of hers that I constantly revisit is Finding Balance. I spotted it in an exhibit catalog when I was in graduate school. I had been trying to figure out how to tell my own familial story, and I started learning more about contemporary artists from the Caribbean. Campos-Pons’s Finding Balance was the first time I saw someone articulate my story visually. My family is also of Afro-Chinese Caribbean heritage.
This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.
Finding Balance is a mixed-media piece where one of the mediums is the scale of the piece. It measures 96 inches by 140 inches and consists of 28 photographs on aluminum panels arranged in a four-by-seven grid. Campos-Pons’s incorporation of her Cuban, Chinese, and Nigerian ancestry and her Santería faith mirrors my own use of orisha signifiers. She strikes a balance of discussing Santería without exploiting it, something I consider as well when making my own work. I feel that her work has been a good guide to gauging what is respectful when displaying the sacred. She displays her mastery in her making: photography, composition, and concept. Every aspect of the piece is busy but economical; each of the elements serves a purpose and wastes no consideration. For example, the photographs are an extension of her guerrilla performance at the 2013 Venice Biennale, where there was an installation of birdcages. She incorporates them into her performance and her photography while referencing headdresses from Yorubaland. The result is an unfamiliar story told eloquently.
In 2017–18, Finding Balance was featured in the Circles and Circuits exhibition at the California African American Museum, in Los Angeles. It was the first time I was able to see the piece in person. Incidentally, my work, too, was a part of the exhibition, as it focused on artists of Chinese Caribbean heritage. It was an honor to be showing alongside Campos-Pons; it felt like my practice had come full circle. •