Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mami Wata at the National Museum of African Art

At once beautiful, protective, seductive, and dangerous, the water spirit Mami Wata (Mother Water, seen here in painting by Moyo Ogundipe) is celebrated throughout much of Africa and the African Atlantic. A rich array of arts surrounds her, as well as a host of other aquatic spirits--all honoring the essential, sacred nature of water. Mami Wata is often portrayed as a mermaid, a snake charmer, or a combination of both. She is widely believed to have "overseas" origins, and her depictions have been profoundly influenced by representations of ancient, indigenous African water spirits, European mermaids, Hindu gods and goddesses, and Christian and Muslim saints. She is not only sexy, jealous, and beguiling but also exists in the plural, as the mami watas and papi watas who comprise part of the vast and uncountable "school" of African water spirits. Check out the show at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art: http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/mamiwata/intro.html

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