Article on African Art by Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings - Mami Wata in African Art

African art article by Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings - Modernity and Mystery: Mami Wata in African Art Page 1
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Modernity and mystery: Mami Wata in African art (Page 1)

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Contemporary African art is characterized by the invention and construction of new meanings and contexts for the exotic and traditional. Devotion to Mami Wata is encountered in different forms through out Africa and she is often portrayed in African art. A discussion of her portrayal in Africa is therefore a suitable example of the reconstruction and invention of the popular and the ritual in African art. In this article I am going to concentrate particularly on instances of Mami Wata devotion encountered in West and Central African art.

Mami Wata worship is strongly connected to the traditional worship of water spirits. Traditionally water spirits are believed to occasionally make an appearance before humans. Descriptions of this water spirit and its portrayal in African art can vary greatly from region to region but there are some characteristics that are commonly assigned to the water spirit such as her fair skin and long flowing hair. The water spirit is sometimes described as being accompanied by snakes and guarded by some kind of fierce animal. Mostly these water spirits are portrayed in African art as being naked but sometimes they are said to wear jewels and gold medallions.

The names for these water spirits vary from area to area but most often it will be referred to as Mami Wata to outsiders. Like many African deities Mami Wata is believed to poses the ability to do both good and evil. The portrayal of Mami Wata in African art is characterised by the appropriation of Hindu and Christian prints in its imagery. The most common print appropriated is an image of a female snake charmer with the inset of another figure. This image is based on chromolithograph original printed in Hamburg in 1883. The print is believed to have arrived in the beginning of the twentieth century on the West African coast and its influence has spread throughout Central Africa.

Even though Mami Wata devotion is encountered through out Africa one must guard against a homogenized description of Mami Wata devotion. Despite common descriptions found in Mami Wata cults, it is important to note that the rituals and devotional objects associated with her worship may differ from region to region. Another misrepresentation is the over emphasis placed on the influence of the exotic over the indigenous and traditional in African art.


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African art article by Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings - Modernity and Mystery: Mami Wata in African Art Page 1
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