Magda at Montserrat

By Jo Broderick

I’ve been at Montserrat College of Art for nearly three decades and always get excited this time of year – for spring, for graduation and to see what our student artists go out into the world to do next. Located in Beverly, Mass., Montserrat is a small, private, residential college of visual art and design, founded in 1970, by artists, for artists, educating the creative problem solvers of tomorrow.

These students will, no doubt, find inspiration in this year’s commencement speaker, renowned contemporary artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons.

In addition to celebrating our graduates and receiving an honorary degree from the college, the Boston-based Cuban artist will speak at our Free Public Artist Lecture May 18 at the nearby Larcom Theatre.


De La Dos Aguas by María Magdalena Campos-Pons. Courtesy image.

We enjoy the symmetry this choice offers as last year, she was featured in a solo exhibition called Alchemy of the Soul at PEM in Salem. Dean of Faculty and Academics Laura Tonelli said the college chose Campos-Pons as the speaker because she is an internationally known artist with great appeal to contemporary art study. “Ms. Campos-Pons’s interdisciplinary work, which draws deeply on her Cuban heritage, provides a timely exploration of contemporary issues regarding identity, race and gender,” she said.


Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits (detail), 2015. Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.

Each year, Montserrat brings well-known contemporary artists to Beverly for commencement and activities open to the public as the college’s way of giving back to the community. We are extremely honored to have an artist of Ms. Campos-Pons’s caliber speaking to our graduates. Her successful career both in the US and abroad will be inspirational to our community. Campos-Pons joins a long list of illustrious commencement speakers at Montserrat including Bryan Konietzko, Wangechi Mutu, Matthew Ritchie, Gregory Crewdson, Amy Sillman, Jenny Holzer, Janine Antoni and James Rosenquist, to name a few.

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Montserrat College of Art. Photo courtesy of @montcollegeart on Instagram.

Campos-Pons’s work is autobiographical. It encompasses a larger story. It reveals a history of survival and of a culture, a religion, and a people- from the oceanic voyage from Africa during the slave trade in the 18th century, to its aftermath in Cuba on the sugar plantations, to the present day in the United States. It is a felt history, not one of the rhetorical facts and figures told through non-spoken, fragmented narratives.


María Magdalena Campos-Pons. Photo by Chip van Dyke.

Her work, although an expression of absence and loss, is a celebratory gesture toward a unique and resilient culture. It investigates history and memory, and their roles in the formation of identity.

Born in Matanzas province in Cuba in 1959, Campos-Pons bears a familial history that is intermingled with the sugar industry’s presence in her hometown of La Vega. Her roots can be traced from America, to a Cuban homeland, to the enslaved who were traded by Spanish colonists and finally back to what is today Nigeria. Campos-Pons’s powerful attachment to her cultural African heritage is one that she has never experienced directly but its presence in the rites and myths of her childhood make her a Cuban transplanted in the United States, an exile twice over.


Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Blue Refuge, 2008. DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Museum Purchase with funds provided by members of the DeCordova Collections and Exhibitions Committee and the Frederick P. Walkey Fund, a gift of the Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation, 2009. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

The artist has been exhibited in the United States, Canada, Japan, Norway, France, Italy, and Cuba. She was represented in the Johannesburg Biennial and has had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons with Neil Arcadio Leonard-Campos, The Warrior Reservoir, 2010–11. Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, Nashville, TN. Photo by John Schwelkert.

Editor’s Note: Montserrat College of Art will present a free public lecture by renowned contemporary artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons at The Larcom Theatre, 13 Wallis St., Beverly, Thursday, May 18 at 6:30 pm, followed by an 8 pm reception and viewing of Ms. Campos-Pons work in the college’s main building at 23 Essex Street. This event is free and generously sponsored by Eastern Bank, but registration is requested by contacting In addition to work by Campos-Pons, Montserrat Gallery will be open for viewing of the 2017 All Senior Show May 1 – 19, as well.

For further information, visit the Montserrat website or the Facebook Event page

To learn more about Campos-Pons and to go behind the scenes of Alchemy of the Soul: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons see this digital publication by PEM. See this recent Connected post about a PEM trip to Cuba, inspired by Campos-Pons.

Magdalena Compos Pons; Unit 7 detail

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits, glass fragment. 2015 Peabody Essex Museum. Photograph by Walter Silver/PEM.

Jo at chamberJo Broderick is the Dean of College Relations and Special Assistant to the President at Montserrat College of Art. With Montserrat since 1989, she serves as chief communications officer, liaison to government and external constituents, and works on special projects.

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