New York Times writer Holland Cotter comes calling again, grabbing our spirits in his captivating, celebratory style. We’re going somewhere I should be taking you, if only I was on my game.
Cotter tells us to grab our coats. There may be cherry blossoms in DC but it still darn cool in New York and Bucks County.
Here’s the plan. We drop whatever humdrum thing we’re doing and leave for Washington. Right away is not too soon. Once there, we head straight to the National Museum of African Art and begin our descent into the galleries, down being the only direction for this subterranean branch of the Smithsonian.
We’re going underwater: down, down, into African water, mid-Atlantic water, Caribbean water, with light, colors and temperatures changing all the way. No need for snorkels or goggles. Art is our oxygen. Nothing should stand between us and it.
We’re at the National Museum of African Art, and if you click this link, you can enjoy the rest of Holland Carter’s surprise, to African music on your computer. It’s very simple. Come on, let’s get with the program. Just remember, a country that has conga lines in the White House now can let loose a little.
Ding dong. We’ve rejoined the global community this week. Let us rejoice.
We’re on our way now to meet a good witch, Mami Wata. Actually, she’s a goddess, a most wonderful goddess. Her show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas.” This is Holland’s story, and I’ll let him tell it:
She is 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.
I think Mami Wata has a bit of Lilith in her. She’s another reckless woman, confident with her own power and not ready to bow down to Adam or any other man. (For those readers who don’t know, Lilith preceeded Eve as Adam’s first wife in the Old Testament. She was too much for Adam to handle and she stormed out of Eden and lived the rest of her life as a not very nice person.)
At any rate, contemporary African men are ambivalent about Mama Wati. Come to think of it, she’s probably a Smart Sensuality woman.
Fluid in form, volatile in temperament, foreign in origin, Mami Wata is feared and reviled as a spiritual loose cannon. Inevitably, she’s been snagged in a net of sexual politics. As women take increasingly active and independent roles in contemporary life, they are perceived as a threat to social stability. Africa is no different in this way from anyplace else. Mami Wata has come to personify feminine power that must be brought into line and tamped down.
You must read HC’s entire art review. It’s so rich in African history, so entertaining and educational, mixing an ancient goddess with contemporary sexual politics all over the globe.
I adore Mami Wata, even if she is a very tough broad.
After all, she had to be so … to help her people survive. She sailed those horrific slave ships across the Atlantic, trying to keep a modicum of inspiration and hope alive on the high seas, with terrified peoples, ripped from the sun and soil of their own baptismal lands.
You’ve heard the stories of the Haitian voodoo altars. Yes, indeed. That’s Mami Wata, too.
In South America, Africa, and in parts of the Caribbean, festivals still honor Mami Wata today. When you finish your tour of Washington, head south to Brazil, where the locals are celebrating Mami Wata any minute now. Anne