Exhibition Explores Multiple Cultures and 500 Years of History with Art Honoring the Essential, Sacred Nature of Water

Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas

August 4 – January 2, 2011

Stanford, California — Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas,” August 4, 2010 through January 2, 2011. This exhibition explores 500 years of visual cultures and histories of the water deity widely known as Mami Wata (“Mother Water”) through the diverse array of traditional and contemporary arts surrounding her — sculpture, paintings, masks, altars, and more from west and central Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States. Admission is free.

Beautiful and seductive, protective yet dangerous, Mami Wata is celebrated throughout much of Africa and the African Atlantic world. Often portrayed as a mermaid, a snake charmer, or a combination of both, she and a “school” of related African water spirits all honor the essential, sacred nature of water. With 100 works portraying Mami Wata, the exhibition introduces the water spirit’s iconic persona, then reveals a widespread presence and popularity of this water spirit in religious and artistic practices around the world, and finally concludes with Mami Wata as artists’ muse today.

This exhibition was organized and produced by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and guest curated by Henry Drewal, Ph.D., who is professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin. Drewal presents a lecture about Mami Wata and the exhibition on October 28 at 6:00 pm. The exhibition debuted at the Fowler Museum, then traveled to the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The Cantor Arts Center presents the exhibition’s final viewing.

A book accompanies the exhibition. The book is written by Drewal with contributions by Marilyn Houlberg, Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Amy L. Noell, John W. Nunley, and Jill Salmons, published by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, and is available in the Cantor Arts Center Bookshop (227 pages, 82 color images, soft cover, $25).

The exhibition was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, promoting excellence in the humanities. The exhibition’s presentation at Stanford is supported by the Phyllis Wattis Program Fund and the Clumeck Fund.

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VISITOR INFORMATION: Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 am - 5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm. Admission is free. The Center is located on the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at Museum Way. Parking is free after 4 pm weekdays and all day on weekends. Information: 650-723-4177, museum.stanford.edu.

PUBLICITY IMAGES: High-resolution images are available for publicity use. Call 650-724-3600 or email mmwhite@stanford.edu

Fact sheet for exhibition

Zoumana Sane,
Mami Wata, 1987. Pigment, glass. Collection of Herbert M. and Shelley Cole. Photo by Don Cole

John Goba
, Headdress, 1980s
Wood pigment, fabric, netting, beads, metal fiber. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Cole