Poggibonsi (Siena), Italy—Transart congratulates Ato Malinda (MFA 2014) on the recent short-listing of her video On Fait Ensemble, 2010 for the Celeste Prize 2014 in Video and Animation.
On Fait Ensemble features panoramas of scenic landscapes, point of view shots from a pirogue, and marketplace scenes interspersed with apparitions of a black female figure dressed in white. A voiceover meditates on the longevity and transnationality of Mami Wata, a water spirit revered in Africa and throughout the African diaspora, and reads Langston Hughes’ poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1919/1920). Capable of metamorphosis, Mami Wata adopts the form of a mermaid-like deity at times and a male patron of markets and bars at others. Historically she/he is glimpsed on pre-European West African coasts; mentioned in 15th century colonial accounts; and evoked in a late 19th century chromolithograph of a Southeast Asian snake charmer in Germany that was reprinted in India and circulated throughout, as well as appropriated by, West Africa as a representation of Mami Wata.
Malinda appears now and again, performing Papai Wata, the concomitant with Mami Wata and a symbol of the white man in Beninese tradition. She wears a dark suit and tie and a top hat. Her face is painted white. As she distributes paper pamphlets at a market and rides in a pirogue, the presence of her whitened black face backdropped with scenes of a waterfront, commerce, transportation and travel suggest the transnationality and hybridity of an African identity.
Born in 1981, Ato Malinda grew up between the Netherlands, Kenya and the United States. She studied Art History and Molecular Biology at the University of Texas at Austin while developing an artistic practice that includes performance, painting, drawing, installation, video and independently curating exhibitions. She exhibits and performs her work worldwide, most recently at Dak’Art 2014: 11ème Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain, Dakar; Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK), Berlin; Townhouse Gallery, Cairo; Salon Urbain de Douala, Douala, Cameroon; and the Karen Blixen Museum, Copenhagen.