Worshipped for thousands of years, Mami Wata are considered the “bringers of divine law,” revered by those in the pursuit of material wealth, sexual desire, emotional guidance, and fertility of land and womb. While they are honored for their healing powers, they are also feared for their ability to incite flooding, drought, impotence, infertility, and infidelity. Though most often portrayed as a hybrid womxn-aquatic creature, Mami Wata are believed to adopt a myriad of physical and symbolic forms.
The most globally circulated image of Mami Wata originates from a 19th century German chromolithograph (circa 1887) entitled Maladamatjaute. The image portrayed a Samoan snake charmer who served as the subject of an advertisement for an “exotic animal and people” exposition that toured Europe and the United States. Under the Western European gaze, the image of the long-haired, light brown-skinned woman with a snake was a visualization of the exoticized Other.
The Maladamatjaute image soon arrived on the West African coast via merchants and was widely propagated for its symbolic resonances to the snake-bearing water deities known as Mami Wata. Due to colonial trade routes, the image was reproduced throughout the continent, into India, and across the Atlantic to the Americas, where it would be integrated in altars and artwork for centuries to come.
MAMI is informed by Mami Wata’s mystifying multiplicity and by the paradoxical conditions upon which personal subjectivities are constituted. Through works of sculpture, photography, and digital media, Salome Asega, Nona Faustine, Doreen Garner, Aya Rodriguez-Izumi, MALAXA, and Rodan Tekle re-envision the lineages of advertising, exhibition design, gynecology, self-portraiture, and theology as a means of self-recovery that is permeable and unpredictable— like water itself.
Featuring: Salome Asega, Nona Faustine, Doreen Garner, Aya Rodriguez-Izumi, Rodan Tekle, MALAXA