". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mami Wata

"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!


Renegade Eye said...

Last year there was a conference in Minneapolis, sponsored by including the Venezuelan embassy, related to the African diaspora.

They were talking about another. One of the organizers, ended up working for the embassy. Several involved were padding their resume. They don't exist as a group anymore. I mentioned Vacquero to them.

Phil BC said...

Dear Foxessa

I didn't have an email address for you, so I hope you don't mind me leaving this here.

I'm writing to you inviting you to take part in the Carnival of Socialism. The Carnival has been bringing a fortnightly round up of everything that's going on in the global socialist blogosphere for the last three years, and draws from a wide and eclectic mix of blogs. It has had the added bonus of helping the blogging left become a more cohesive and welcoming place, as well as delivering more audiences to the blogs that have already taken part.

But the Carnival needs your help. We are looking to expand the number of volunteers beyond a core group of 'usual suspects'. Previous Carnivals are located on its dedicated blog at to give you an idea of what hosting a carnival entails. We have sessions booked up until 26th April but need volunteers for dates after then.

If you would like to sign up for a Carnival, know someone who might, or have any other questions about it please drop me a line at philbc03 at

Socialist Greetings,

Phil BC (A Very Public Sociologist)

Foxessa said...

Ren -- This week Vaquero starts recording the CD he wants to have available when The Year Before the Flood is published, so he can have a new album on offer as well as a new book, on the tour that will (hopefully) start at the end of summer, early fall.

He's hoping to have an invitation to Chicago. If that happened it wouldn't be insane to go to Minneapolis-St. Paul too, if there was a venue that would host him, such a library, a community center series -- something like that.

He can present and read from the book, as well as do a small concert. He did this with The World That Made New Orleans for nearly a year, and it worked very well, from Colombia to Barcelona to San Francisco to Portland and Seattle, to New Orleans, to South Carolina to New York.

People are already contacting him for their series without even having seen the new book yet. They just want him back.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

Hi, Phil! You should be able to find my e-mail on the profile page. Hmmmm. Anyway, I've sent you an e-mail.

Love, C.