Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: A Fiber Arts Exhibition

Quilt by Doris Prouty

The MOJA Arts Festival presents Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: A Fiber Arts Exhibition at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park from August 28-October 28, 2012. Curated by Torreah “Cookie” Washington, this exhibit showcases fiber art pieces portraying mermaids and merwomen from artists across the United States. Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: A Fiber Arts Exhibition opens on Tuesday, August 28 2012. The public is invited to attend an opening reception on Saturday, September 8 from 5 to 8 p.m.

African merfolk first appeared in the millennia-old belief of the dwelling of water spirits in Western Africa. With the increasing contact between Europe and Africa of the time, these legends eventually combined with traditional European myths of mermaids. Thus, African water-spirits evolved from a representation as half-human, half-creature, to being popularly depicted as a half-fish, half-woman.

Quilt by Laura Gadson

Beginning in the 16th century with the arrival of enslaved Africans on the Atlantic slave trade, their traditions, beliefs and practices honoring their ancestral water deities were transplanted into the United States. Tales of capricious female water spirits evolved into stories describing anything from wrathful sea creatures brewing great storms to harm the Carolina Sea Islands to mermaids acting as obliging “fairy-godmothers.”

Today, African-based faiths honoring black merfolk still thrive, and new communities of color have reestablished and revitalized African water-spirits in their art. Quilting and doll-making traditions have undergone a renaissance.  No longer are they considered utilitarian tasks, but are now emerging as works of art. This exhibit demonstrates the revisualization of African mermaid myths.  Curator Cookie Washington states, “Each piece is a storyteller, using color, texture, form and embellishment to express a narrative.”

Doll by Pam Wollis

Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: A Fiber Arts Exhibition features the works of over fifty of the country’s premiere African-American fiber artists including internationally known artists Dr. Edward Bostic,  Donna Chambers, Marion Coleman, Arianne King Comer, Michael Cummings, Dr. Deborah Grayson, Dr. Myra Brown Green, Dr. Kim Hall, and Patricia Montgomery.  These artists come together to weave a journey of color and inspiration and to tell the tales of these legendary merfolk.

An accompanying catalogue, Black Mermaids: In Vision and Verse, invites you to celebrate the relationship between fine craft and poetic verse.  Making a splash in verse are poet and quilter Jacqueline Johnson,  authors Joanna Sophia Crowell,  Maritza Rivera, spoken-word poet and musician Kurtis Lamkin; filmmaker and poet Bianca Spriggs; Akua Lezli Hope; Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie; Poet Laureate of South Carolina Marjory Heath Wentworth, and more.

Special thanks to The Liberator Magazine and YWCA for their support of this exhibit.