Ato Malinda presents her video work “On Fait Ensemble” as part of the exhibition “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists,” at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The video is about Mami Wata, an ancient African water spirit, who has been worshipped by Africans before the arrival of Europeans, but came into recorded history in the 15th Century.
During colonialism, in the 1880's a famous German hunter, Breitwiser, brought back a wife from Southeast Asia to Germany. Brietwiser’s wife performed in Hamburg’s volkerschau, essentially human zoos, under the stage name “Maladamatjaute”. She charmed snakes. The Frienlaender lithographic company, in Hamburg, made a chromolithograph of the snake charmer, the original of which has never been found. However in 1955, this image was reprinted in Bombay, India, sent to them from Ghana. It is unknown how exactly the image got to West Africa, but it is thought to have been taken from Hamburg by African sailors when they were in Germany. However on its arrival in Africa, locals declared Maladamatjaute to be a resemblance to Mami Wata. The image has since proliferated throughout the African continent as Mami Wata, the snake charmer. On Fait Ensemble suggests in a metaphorical sense that this image came from Europeans. This is done through the market performance of Papai Wata. Papai Wata, the concomitant to Mami Wata in Beninese traditional ceremonies, symbolizes the European man and is depicted in the video by a white painted face.