"Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas," at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. The show is curated by friend, John Henry Drewal, professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin. I met Henry first in 1989-1990, at the opening of the Robert Farris Thompson curated show of Altars at the then new African Museum of Art here in NYC. There are altars in this exhibit, as well there should be, for devotees of African and African Diaspora Powers so often make works of art of the power places where they commune with their divine Object. I have learned so much spending quiet, solitary time the altars of the Objects and their Subjects, just looking.
Mami Wata is a modern disapora Power, who appears to have emerged in the 15th Century, with the coming of the Portuguese, who seemed to have introduced the concept of 'mermaid,' to Africa. *
First painting: "She is the Mother Water, Mother of Fishes, goddess of oceans, rivers and pools, with sources in West and Central Africa and tributaries throughout the African Americas, from Bahia to Brooklyn. Usually shown as a half-woman, half-fish, she slips with ease between incompatible elements: water and air, tradition and modernity, this life and the next."
"Sub-Saharan rock paintings of great antiquity depict fish, snakes and human figures swimming together, suggesting that water was long considered a magical, difference-dissolving medium. Beings that combine human and animal features are a fixture of African art."
Second Painting: "The picture of the woman, with her light-but-not-white skin, cascade of dark hair and long skirt covering what was presumed to be a fish tail, caused a sensation. Her overseas allure was further amplified by an overlay of Hindu influences introduced by South Asian immigrants to Africa, many of them rich merchants."
Third Painting: As with most African Powers, Mami Wata possesses more than one negative aspect. In the third painting, above, she appears as distant and self-involved as the European colonial conquers. (She appears to have borrowed some of the 'things' of Yoruba orisha Oshun -- that mirror in particular!)
Fourth, Sculpture: To many, particularly African Muslims and Christians she disrupts the social order, specifically the place in which women are supposed keep themselves, submissive and quiet. I love this piece particularly because it harkens strongly that West African traditional 'composite' wooden mask-sculpture of the 'head' (the seat of the soul). Also because, well, because of the name I give it to myself, "Lettin' Out Your Inner Snake!"
* Paragraphs in italics are quoted from the NY Times article. Among the many drawbacks of Blogspot, uploading art in the order you want it, plus text, is just about farkin' impossible!