Sugar Joins Luscious in
Museums Food Series
Northampton, Mass.—A new
exhibition, Sugar: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, opened in
the Museum of Art earlier this month. Sugar features a newly
commissioned site-specific installation, Sugar/Bittersweet,
along with two earlier installations by the artist, both
related to her family’s ties to the sugar industry in Cuba.
Campos-Pons at work on Sugar/Bittersweet
The exhibition is shown in conjunction
with the collaborative project Table for Ten: The
Art, History and Science of Food.
The work of Maria Magdalena
Campos-Pons addresses the Afro-Cuban diaspora and her identity
as an exile—a woman of Yoruba ancestry, born in a former slave
barracks in the sugar plantation town La Vega in the province
of Matanzas, Cuba—now living and working in Boston.
personal history mirrors the so-called sugar triangle, a
transatlantic trade route involving many European nations
and the United States, particularly New England, in the infamous
exchange of slaves from Africa for sugar from the Caribbean.
From South Pacific origins, spreading from India and the
Middle East to Mediterranean and Africa, sugar cane crossed
the ocean to the New World in the late 15th century and became
the agent of human dislocation and tragedy on an epic scale.
In the 19th century, Cuba’s slave-based plantation economy
rose to become a leading sugar producer worldwide.
conceived of Sugar/Bittersweet as a simulacrum of a sugar
cane field, with columns of disks of raw sugar and cast-glass
forms pierced by African spears as visual metaphors for the
tall, graceful stalks of the sugar cane plant. These forms,
set into African stools, reference the slaves who worked
the sugar cane fields. Roped Chinese weights allude to the
weighing of the canes after harvest. They also refer to another
aspect of the artist’s ancestry: the Chinese indentured laborers
who were brought to Cuba to work for the sugar mills as they
became increasingly mechanized. Video components of the installation
incorporate interviews with individuals in Cuba and from
other sugar-producing countries.
Sugar/Bittersweet is shown
in the context of two other installations by Campos-Pons:
History of a People Who Were Not Heroes:
A Town Portrait (1994) and Meanwhile
the Girls Were Playing (1999-2000).
A Town Portrait recasts architectural elements—a domelike
fountain, a tower from the sugar factory, a door, and a wall—from
La Vega and merges personal family memories with moments
of Afro-Cuban history. The tower in the installation is one
of several former distillery towers from the now defunct
sugar mill and represents a conflicted landmark for the artist.
Meanwhile the Girls Were Playing combines textiles, cast-glass
flowers, and video projections of toys, sugar, and cotton
candy, intermingling memories of childhood innocence with
the conflicted legacy of sugar cane.
Taking over the lower
level of the Museum, the three installations create a powerful
visual and artistic statement of the way in which sugar is
inextricably tied to the artist’s personal history, to Cuba’s
national identity, and to slavery.
The artist will do a two-day
residency at Smith on November 11 and 12. On Thursday, November
11, Campos-Pons will give a free public lecture entitled, “The
Making of Sugar/Bittersweet” in Weinstein Auditorium, Wright
Hall, at 5 p.m. On Friday, November 12, SCMA will host a
free Second Friday program featuring Campos-Pons in a free
performance art piece entitled, “They told me that…“
View a complete related to the exhibition Sugar.