April 31st – May 3rd, 2009
Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore is a unique exhibit of fiber art built around a common thread: the rich oral tradition of African Americans in the Southeast with its roots in the myths and cultural beliefs of the African diaspora, specifically in feminine water spirits which, in the Western world, are popularly known as “mermaids.”
The Atlantic slave trade, initiated in the 16th century, gradually pollenated the New World with many of the indigenous legends of Africa. It was not until the late 19th century that American folklorists venturing into the post-war South began to seek out and record these stories; a written history of African American mermaids had begun.
Some of the water spirit folk tales that evolved from within the storytellings of enslaved Africans depict vengeful mermaids who summon powerful storms upon the hapless communities of the Carolina coastal islands, while others represent the mermaid as a benevolent, wish-granting fairy godmother. The dual natures of creation and destruction, sympathy and retribution, are co-equal in the character of African-derived feminine water spirits.
This exhibit offers diverse interpretations of such universal themes; femininity, fertility, maternity, mystery and independence of the spirit are just a few. So universal are these elements that Mami Wata and Yemaya, the pervasive pan-African mermaid-goddesses, have been appropriated by modern religious worshippers in the Western hemisphere, from the United States and the Carribean to South America.