“Mami Wata #1”
Lamba print on gatorboard of
artist sculpture
42 x 60 in. (print)
8 x 8 x 8 in. (sculpture)

“Mami Wata #2”
Lamba print on gatorboard of
artist sculpture
42 x 60 in. (print)
8 x 8 x 8 in. (sculpture)

The character of Mami Wata is twofold: she is an ancient and indigenous deity, part of the widespread belief in spirits that live in the waters, but she is most often depicted as an alien creature such as a mermaid. Mami Wata is a fully African spirit.

Tells to Terrify featured author Diane Awerbuck whose short story was visualized by my sculpture/ photograph, “Mata Wata.”

The Awerbuck reading begins at about 09:08.

Mami Wata is often portrayed as a light-skinned maiden with snakes curling around her breasts; the snakes represent supernatural power. As the surface and moods of fresh water and the sea are ever-changing, so are the moods of Mami Wata. She is benevolent as she works to ensure beauty, riches, a big family and a long life to those who honor her, but she also has a dangerous side that capsizes boats, strips away fertile soil and drowns unfortunate victims. This particular image incorporates imagery from colonization and demonstrates the influence of foreign culture on African art, which is organic and constantly evolving. As Africans have been exposed to Western, Islamic and Indian culture and art, the images of Mami Wata have changed over time, yet her personality has remained the same.

Author Diane Awerbuck: I was familiar with “Mami Wata” before [writing my short story] (she’s fairly well-known here in South Africa), but Shabaka’s work is so particularly distinctive, chilling and original. I love this rendition of her as fetish-totem rather than a twee titty-Goth. Congratulations.