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Open Access Publications from the University of California

BODYSCRIPTS: Mami Wata, Diaspora, and Circum-Atlantic Performance

  • Author(s): Hill, Elyan Jeanine
  • Advisor(s): Roberts, Allen F.
  • Roberts, Mary N.
  • et al.

By examining the uses to which the pan-African water goddess Mami Wata is put in Eve Sandler's art installation entitled "Mami Wata Crossing" (2008), Kimberly Mullen's dance Yemanja, Mother of the Deep (2012), and Chris Abani's novel GraceLand (2004), I present these mediums as important but overlooked means of history-making and expressions of diaspora that are often excluded from written histories. Through attention to three specific works, this thesis attends to the roles that the iconography of Mami Wata and her Caribbean sister Yemanja play in framing "artistic genealogies." I employ oral interviews with textual and performance analysis to explore Mami Wata as a sign for intercultural exchange. This thesis begins with an examination of how worship practices honoring Mami Wata intervene in current scholarship on the black Atlantic. In chapter two I consider Mami Wata as a complex, shifting deity through which traumatic histories can be reexamined. In my third chapter I focus on the ways that artists continue to negotiate racial and cultural identity by integrating images of African and Afro-Caribbean water deities into embodied performances. In my last chapter I use a fictional text to reveal ways that artists combine and transform local and foreign images as a means of exploring gender, genealogy, and globalization in an African context. My work convenes a dialogue across artistic mediums and between the disciplines of Dance Studies, Black Atlantic Literature, and Cultural Studies by demonstrating ways contemporary artists are imagining and inscribing themselves into specific canons through embodied and aesthetic practices.

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