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Living in Common in the Precarious South(s)

Program Founder: Dr. Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair Professor of Fine Arts and Artist

Program Curator: Marina Fokidis

This trans-institutional initiative is a collaboration between Fisk University, Frist Art Museum, Millions of Conversations, and Vanderbilt University that addresses four themes over eight episodes with the objective of exploring creative approaches to living together in the South(s). Our virtual conversations are free and open to the public. Dates and events are subject to change.

Registration is available for all episodes in our program.


Our History: Art, Democracy and Justice, Fall 2018

In collaboration with the Frist Art Museum and Fisk University, Dr. Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons launched “Art, Democracy and Justice” in 2018 as part of her appointment as the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair Professor of Fine Arts. This initiative addressed the difficulties and entangled discourses of the everchanging Art, imperfect Democracy, and unbalanced Justice in America and particularly in the South.

“Art, Democracy and Justice” presented the first in a series of programs with aims to inspire conversations about art’s potential to bring about positive social change, particularly with regards to economic inequity, political participation, and barriers relating to race, gender, and other markers of identity.

The inaugural program featured three speakers, including Holland Cotter, Pulitzer Prize winning art critic for the New York Times, Olu Oguibe, a Nigerian born artist, whose Monument for Strangers and Refugees earned the 2017 Arnold Bode Prize of the City of Kassel for Documenta14, and Adam Szymczk, artistic director of Documenta14 and recipient of the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement from the Menil Foundation. The program took place at the Frist Art Museum with students and local artists in attendance. Corollary events took place at Vanderbilt University and included speakers’ meetings with undergraduate classes and faculty in Vanderbilt’s Art Department. The program also traveled to Fisk University’s campus, where speakers met with Fisk’s Curatorial Fellows group, toured the historic Carl Van Vechten Gallery, and learned of Fisk’s history as a historically black institution in the state of Tennessee.

Engine for Art, Democracy and justice, Fall 2020

For the second iteration of the project, we have added the word “engine.” This emphasizes that art not only occupies an alternative ideological zone; it can be an insistent vehicle for instilling humanistic attitudes—empathy, tolerance, individual freedom—forces of resistance that themselves receive unending pushback from powerful forces. The program is structured as a series of eight online panels to accommodate the conditions of the pandemic and to reach worldwide audiences. The 2020 event will feature prominent thought leaders: artists, writers, critics, and curators. This year’s program, “Living in Common in the Precarious South(s),” will examine the consequences of social and historical inequities on the southern imaginary, as seen in art from Latin America, Africa, South Asia, and the American South. These geographies will be explored through the vessel of the human body as a metaphor for exploitation, pandemic, diaspora, and healing.

Each of the programs, or episodes, will feature a moderator and three speakers in a webinar format. At the same time, a physical artwork, performance, or intervention rooted in a historically resonant site in Middle Tennessee will be presented. These will link the ideas defined online to the physical body that lives and dies in geography, history, and the societal present. Dr. Campos-Pons has invited Marina Fokidis as the Program Curator.

Intended audience:

The online program will be available to people around the world and will be of particular value to students of art, literature, music, history, anthropology, and other fields relating to the global South. Students at Vanderbilt University, Fisk University, Belmont University, and other institutions will have opportunities to work with artists who will be invited to create installations, interventions, and performances. The program will also be available to the general community of Nashville, where 27.88% of residents are people of African descent, 10% are Latin Americans, 2.1% are from predominantly-Muslim countries, and approximately 2.58% from Hindu and Buddhist regions.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, The One that Carried the Fire, 2011, mixed media


College of Arts and Science, Vanderbilt University

Department of Art, Vanderbilt University

Department of History of Art and Architecture, Vanderbilt University

Millions of Conversations

Cultural Contexts of Health and Wellbeing Initiative, Vanderbilt University