"MacArthur\u00a0 As a young girl, when I departed from the town of La Vega to pursue art school, I was clad in a simple ensemble of pants and a top lovingly crafted by my mother from the fabric of a secondhand mattress cover. My only possessions were contained within my luggage, and a small piece of brown paper held the address of my destination. In my heart, I carried the unwavering determination that I would not return to my hometown until I had an abundance of remarkable news to share. And now, as I prepare to journey back to La Vega, it is not as the girl I once was, but as a MacArthur Genius."\r\n\r\nREAD:Google Doodle Honors Todd Matshikiza: South African Jazz Pianist, Composer, and Journalist\u201d\r\n\r\nMar\u00eda Magdalena Campos-Pons, hailing from a Cuban sugar plantation background, responded to the news of being named one of this year's 20 MacArthur Fellows, also renowned as the "Genius Grant," with profound emotion. The MacArthur Foundation bestows this distinction, characterized as a "no-strings attached award," consisting of $800,000, upon "exceptionally talented and innovative individuals, as an investment in their potential."\r\nMacArthur\r\nAt the age of 64, Campos-Pons has been honored with this prestigious recognition in light of her remarkable contributions as a multidisciplinary artist. Her portfolio spans a wide range of artistic mediums, including sculptures, paintings, installations, and photography, among others. Her works grace the walls of more than 30 museums worldwide, attesting to her artistic brilliance and cultural impact.\r\n\r\nA significant portion of Campos-Pons' art is deeply rooted in her upbringing in La Vega, where her family resided in former slave barracks. Here, they imparted to her the rich tapestry of traditions, rituals, and beliefs passed down from her ancestors\u2014Nigerian slaves who were brought to Cuba to toil in the sugar plantations.\r\n\r\nMacArthur\u00a0 One of her notable works, titled "Constellation," encapsulates this profound connection. Within this piece, Campos-Pons assembles 16 imposing Polaroid photographs that capture her distinctive dreadlocked hair intertwined with painted landscapes. These elements symbolize the diverse cultures that constitute the African diaspora. Despite the tribulations of slavery, geographical distances, and the passage of time, these cultures remain intricately intertwined, forging an enduring bond that she continues to feel deeply connected to.\r\n\r\nIn her captivating performance art piece titled "Habla Lamadre," she gracefully glides through the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City, adorned in a MacArthur\u00a0 sculptural white dress. During this powerful performance, she invokes Yemaya, an African deity, with a plea for Yemaya to "take hold of this institution and showcase the formidable influence of the Black body."\r\n\r\nCurrently occupying the esteemed position of Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Campos-Pons shares her thoughts with NPR regarding her plans for the prize money and her perspective on being labeled a "genius." Below is an edited excerpt of the interview for brevity and clarity.\r\n\r\nThank you. I didn't know what to say or do. I was running from room to room in the house, experiencing a mix of overwhelming emotions\u2014both a sense of apprehension and pure elation.\r\n\r\nI plan to allocate the prize money towards various initiatives connected to my body of work. Specifically, I have initiated a program at Vanderbilt University known as the "Engine for Art, Democracy, and Justice." Through this program, I aspire to establish a network of creative thinkers dedicated to reshaping the art landscape\u2014addressing aspects such as its acquisition, collection, and accessibility.\r\n\r\nRegarding the similarities between the lives of people in the American South, where I currently reside, and the Global South, where I hail from, there are indeed striking commonalities. In both regions, individuals persistently dream, create, and introduce an abundance of surprises into the human experience, thus triumphing over the complexities of life. It is, in essence, a historical miracle\u2014a phenomenon not limited to any specific geographical location. Whether in Tennessee, Cuba, Senegal, or the Bronx, people exhibit an unwavering commitment to preserving tradition, resilience, and the belief in possibilities, even in challenging circumstances.\r\n\r\nWhat are your thoughts on being labeled a 'genius'? It's quite a substantial label.\r\n\r\nMacArthur\u00a0 Do I consider myself a genius? I have to chuckle at that! I am merely one of the manifestations of a miracle from the Global South. I am the offspring of a father who received an education only up to the third grade and had to labor in the sugarcane fields. My mother, on the other hand, completed only up to the sixth grade before she began making clothes for others and taking on tasks like ironing and washing clothes.\r\n\r\nI'm not sure! MacArthur\u00a0 Perhaps we require a new terminology to encapsulate what this signifies.\r\n\r\nWhat terms would you propose?\r\n\r\nA visionary, a dreamer, a tireless worker, someone who stays awake through the night. Nonetheless, I am deeply honored. I'll accept the title.\r\n\r\nYou were raised among individuals deeply connected to their spirituality. Your mother practiced Santeria, a religious tradition established by African slaves in Cuba, while your father employed plants for medicinal purposes as an herbalist. How has this influenced your art?\r\n\r\nMy father held an immense reverence for nature. He wouldn't even pluck a small branch from a tree without first tapping on it and offering a gift, whether it be cornmeal or a penny. Only after seeking permission in this manner would he take the branch, because taking energy from a tree without consent is not the right way. MacArthur\u00a0 This reverence for nature inspired one of my artworks in 1994 titled "The Herbalist's Tools." It features his implements, including his machete and his garabato\u2014a hooked staff used for uprooting plants from the earth\u2014to clear a path through the forest.