The Many Meanings of Mami Wata Explored in New MAMI Exhibit
MAMI, a powerful exhibit recently on view at the Knockdown Center, several female artists of African descent explored the significance of Mami Wata, the West and Central African mythological icon known for offering prosperity, healing, fertility, and sexual freedom to her worshipers. The seven-person group show which included Nona Faustine, Aya Rodriguez-Izumi, Doreen Garner, Salome Asega, Rodan Tekle, and creative duo MALAXA provided a platform for the artists to express their interpretations and individual connections to the revered Mami Wata. These many personal narratives were told through video, photography, sculpture, virtual reality, and installation, offering the viewer a multi-layered scope of Mami Wata's history. Often represented as a seductive mermaid-like creature wrapped in serpents who lured men, MAMI deconstructs Mami Wata's monolithic legacy and suggests various contemporary realities.
The stimulating artworks, thoughtfully arranged throughout the expansive space, place the viewer on an unforgettable journey, a journey overflowing in black womanhood, beauty, agency, and self-discovery. Nona Faustine's large-scale photograph, She Came to Me One Day (2012), portrays the artist laying on abrasive rocks on a New York beach, reflecting on the painful atrocities inflicted on black bodies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet her peaceful pose evokes the serenity of a sea goddess. Aya Rodriguez-Izumi's immersive installation, Offering (2016), unites the spectator with the ocean, cascading strips of blue tinsel caress the body like soft waves as the viewer enters a meditative sanctuary. Doreen Garner moves away from oceanic iconography heavily associated with Mami Wata and instead offers sacrificial-like sculptures and installation. In NEO(plasm) (2015), a panoply of kitschy objects like pearls, glitter, beads, Swarovski crystals, hair weave, as well as condoms and petroleum jelly, seem to investigate materialism and sexuality within Mami Wata.
The curators Dyani Douze and Ali Rosa-Salas state, "The exhibition is inspired by the global influence of Mami Wata, a pantheon of water deities whose origins are linked to Central and West African matriarchal systems. At once beautiful, jealous, generous, and unpredictable, Mami Wata is the embodiment of hybridity and contradiction." Hybridity and multiplicity live at the center of MAMI, debunking Mami Wata's static trajectory and showcasing innumerable identities, a truthful parallel to the multiple identities black women juggle in present day.
MAMI was on view at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens from August 6th to September 4th. Robust programming included an opening night party with Quay Dash, MAMI Market, a Top Rank Magazine live podcast episode featuring Doreen St. Felix, Jenna Wortham, Ryann Holmes, Arianna Gil, and a closing event with Fake Accent Collective.