mami wata

litho of a snake charmer

litho of a snake charmer

I went to see “Mami Wata”, the water spirit exhibit at the National Museum of African Art, and was once again reminded of the power of printmaking.  Printmaking has impressed me with it’s potential as a democratizing art form: able to communicate to a broad audience by it’s very nature as an accessible, affordable, DIY process. (To tangent: Ben Franklin certainly believed in the power of the press and wanted only to be identified as a printer on his gravestone.)  So if you question the power of printmaking check out this Mami Wata show- for the very identity of a deity has been transformed by a single lithograph!

The specific image now identified as Mami Wata crystallized in the late 19th century, after a German print portraying an Indian (?) circus snake charmer had a wide African distribution. The exhibit includes some of these “original” prints and then some more recent and/or African interpretations of the image. But then as you travel through this truly amazing show you’ll see evidence of the snake charmer print in Sierra Leone head dresses… Haitian flags… statues from the Dominican Republic…. it continues to be perpetuated and evolves.  All over the world this print has impacted the depiction of Mami Wata!

“Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas” continues through July 26 at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 950 Independence Avenue SW, Washington; (202) 633-4600,


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