Mariott Wardman Park Hotel, Wshington 1, Exhibition Level
All photos by Nikki A. Greene
María Magdalena Campos-Pons and Carrie Mae Weems, originally from Cuba and the United States, respectively, have thrived internationally creating works of art that examine African diasporic identity using the physicality of their own bodies as process, subject, and object, literally and figuratively. On April 27, 2014, María Magdalena Campos-Pons processed through the lobby and onto the ramps leading to the second floor galleries of the Guggenheim Museum of New York, shouting incantations among hundreds of visitors, costumed in a startlingly white, hooped dress that mimicked the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building. Eight female attendants and an Afro-Cuban band sang and played along. In celebration of the exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, the performance took place during Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Past Tense/Future Perfect, a weekend of programs of artist talks, dance, music, and theater.
This paper will examine how Campos-Pons performance “Habla La Madre” offered on that Sunday afternoon her Afro-Cuban body as a site of/for “Africa” and “womanhood” in harmony with Weems—and in dissonance with the museum space—serving to complicate performance art as portraiture within the African Diaspora. Stuart Hall defined the circular relationship of people of African descent to the continent as they return physically, intellectually, and/or spiritually as having to do with “what Africa has become in the New World, what we have made of ‘Africa’: ‘Africa’ as we re-tell it through politics, memory and desire.” Campos-Pons’ insertion within the Guggenheim stands as an exemplary performative portrait of a black feminist artist that is at once present and absent, still and in motion, familiar and foreign, historical and contemporary. By engaging (and interrupting) an “Africa” that thrives vis-à-vis Cuba and the United States through the artist’s own metonymic presence—in the museum/as the museum—in concert with the self-portraits and performances by Carrie Mae Weems concurrently on exhibition, Campos-Pons distinctly reveals how the portrait of an African diasporic body acts as a site of difference, rupture, fantasy, and indeed, self, in ways not traditionally available in feminist art history.
A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012 at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will enthrall photography enthusiasts, collectors, scholars, and curators alike. As a contributor to the exhibition catalogue, admittedly,I am biased. For me, the most exciting part of the exhibition as a contributing writer included the excitement of seeing all the other photographs together on display. The curators arranged the works, quasi-19th century salon-style, by order of accession date, which provides a chronology of tastes of sorts. Those tastes were shaped by the Davis Museum–the donors, the museum directors, or past and present faculty members available to offer expertise–at any given moment over the last four decades. I wrote on two photographs included in the show: Ellen Gallagher’s Abu Simbel (2005-06) and Radcliffe Bailey’s Echo (2011). Both images were acquired by the Davis Museum in 2011 under the leadership of the Davis’ current director, the Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director, Lisa Fischman.
You see, we weren’t assigned the works. Each of the 60 writers, which included alumnae, donors, museum directors, past and present faculty members, chose one or multiple photographs about which to write critically or to reflect thoughtfully. Subject matter, style, and technique vary, of course. Thus, the exhibition reflects not only the importance of photography in the Davis Museum over the last forty years, but also the personal thoughts, professional tastes, and research interests of the contributors. Portions of their texts hang alongside each photograph. In fact, the interplay of text with the images become the most integral and fascinating experience of the show. I hope as many visitors as possible drop in to see this innovative show. Eugène Atget, Andy Warhol, Dawoud Bey, and Cindy Sherman, among many notable others, reside in the same room. THAT should be motivation enough to get to the Davis by December 16. Truly, with so much to see–and read–one would be hard pressed to find a comparable photography show as visually and intellectually stimulating. Here’s the most recent review from the Boston Globe (9/24/12): “The Davis Showcases 40 Years of Photography.”
At the very least, you’ll want to see my pick, Gallagher’s Abu Simbel and her version of funk masters Sun Ra and George Clinton awaiting a blue, fur-lined spaceship. Funky indeed!