Find this object in the exhibition Currents: Water in African Art
Mami Wata is recognized by diverse peoples throughout Africa as a powerful water spirit. Her origins can be traced to a late 19th-century German lithograph of a female snake charmer. In the 1950s this image, reprinted in the calendar of an Indian company, was circulated widely in western and central Africa. Interested Africans scrutinized the snake charmer’s image and invested it with a new identity: Mami Wata (Mother Water). They linked her great beauty and foreignness to powers that could provide protection and wealth in an increasingly precarious world.The face mask from Côte d’Ivoire is copied almost directly from the imported image.