HMAAC Presents: Mami Wata Afrofuturism

The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) Presents: Mami Wata Afrofuturism: 500 Years Back to the [Afro][F]uture, curated by Christopher Blay. Opening Reception is Friday, April 12 6 - 8PM with a press and member preview from 5 - 6PM. On view through June 29.

The Houston Museum of African American Culture is thrilled to present Mami Wata Afrofuturism:500 Years Back to the [Afro][F]uture, curated by HMAAC’s Chief Curator Christopher Blay. The exhibition envisions the future through the lens of the past and focuses on works by artists of the African Diaspora who consider the transatlantic and trans-Mississippi delta journeys of black people across waters, carrying with them histories, mythologies, and cultures towards new futures.

The exhibition includes paintings, photography and digital painting on paper, photographs, video, and sculpture from the following artists: Arnold J. Browne, Carla Jay Harris, Lewinale Havette, Miatta Kawinzi, Abi Salami, Lakea Shepard, and Raymond Thompson.

A conversation with the artists, moderated by Chief Curator Blay, will be on Saturday, April 13, at 2PM at HMAAC. 

There will also be a Wednesday, April 24, 7PM screening of the movie Mami Wata by director C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi. The public is invited to register for free tickets for the film here

Mami Wata Afrofuturism is Inspired by an essay of the same title written by curator Blay last spring, in which he wrote “The first acts of Afrofuturism began at the crossing of the Atlantic by enslaved  people. They were being taken to an unknown space, shackled, crammed in  small spaces, with no certainty about where they were going or what they would  encounter. As poet Nikki Giovanni described it in ‘Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea  (We’re Going to Mars),’ who better to travel to Mars than ‘people herded into  ships so tightly packed there was no room to turn,’ covering vast distances with  no certainty of what awaited them?”

What they brought with them across those vast distances were their beliefs and their visions. The technology in Mami Wata Afrofuturism is ancestral knowledge, the future is now. The artists in this exhibition conceive of spaces where enslaved African peoples first envisioned what their futures could be. By incorporating the mythology of Mami Wata in their practices or otherwise acknowledging the histories and cultures of the African diaspora, they weave a connective filament through the waters that were traversed to usher in the possibilities of Black tomorrows. It is a reclamation of future spaces from the depths of the gulf waters of the Atlantic, through the flow of the Mississippi River and beyond. Their perspectives incorporate the limitless expanse of space and the incalculable metrics of time as Black people have been doing since our ancestors navigated land and sea with stars, and astrolabes.

Mami Wata Afrofuturism: 500 Years Back to the [Afro][f]uture is made possible through our generous sponsors who include HEB, The Houston Endowment, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, The Johnson Family Foundation, as well as the Board of Directors at HMAAC. Become a member of HMAAC Today! To become a member and enjoy the benefit of our Member Preview Reception before each exhibition, please click on the membership link in bio or visit our website at


Arnold J. Browne I am AJ Browne, a conceptual portrait photographer and owner of Bymsha Browne Photography.  I am a visual storyteller creating images with an editorial/fashion flair and multicolored diaspora splashes. Being the son of a seamstress, I often witnessed my mother making creations similar to what I saw in the magazines.  They were made from textual, colorful, and flowing pieces of fabric.  Her precision with a needle and eye for design brought her clients visions to life.  They were wearing designs that they once thought out of their reach.  Their faces lit up.  They were emotional.  They were elated and confident.  This is what inspires me to weave the elements of light, color, texture, and confidence into every image I create.  Like a seamstress, I connect these elements of the image to tell the story and achieve my clients wishes and beyond. I believe in the phrase "always learn outside your comfort zone."

When the opportunity allowed me to upgrade from "Kodak fun savers cameras" to digital SLRs I took the plunge.  I am self-taught.  Most of my photography education has been through workshops and online learning and I've learned that adding creative light to an image is my way of weaving the image together to tell the story.

"Expression over Perfection" are words I try to shoot by.

Carla Jay Harris My mission is to document intellectual, emotional and psychological environments. I trained as a photographer; however, in recent years, I’ve developed a multidisciplinary practice that includes photography, installation, collage, and drawing. This transformation was inspired by my desire to bring together my interests in image-making, space, and spectatorship. These themes continually inspire me and serve as a binding thread through all my works. My interest in installation is also rooted in my desire to create space for cross-cultural dialogue - creating such spaces, for me, is an outlet for political and social activism.

Lewinale Havette My work immerses itself in the rediscovery of long-suppressed West African indigenous spirituality, while also delving into the profound influence of migration on the identity of female migrants. Within this exploration, I navigate intricate themes including power dynamics, spirituality, sexuality, religion, gender dynamics, immigration, and cultural displacement. Through this work, I provide nuanced perspectives on the physical and spiritual lives of female migrants, uncovering layers of their experiences and identities.
-Lewinale Havette.

Miatta Kawinzi Miatta Kawinzi (she/her/they/them) is a Kenyan-Liberian-American multi-disciplinary artist, writer, and educator raised in Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY and based in Brooklyn, NY since 2010. Her work explores hybridity within the African Diaspora and the re-imagining of the self, identity, place, and culture through abstraction and poetics. She received an MFA in Studio Art from Hunter College and a BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire College.

Abi Salami Abi Salami is a self-taught artist who creates large-scale surrealist works that explore her experiences as a Nigerian immigrant and Black woman in the United States. Through the use of a personal visual lexicon made up of symbols, she explores topics such as sexuality, mental health and race. She earned a Masters in Professional Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin and worked in Corporate America for almost a decade before committing to painting full-time. Since then, she has gone on to exhibiting across the United States and Europe including at The Women’s Museum and the African American Museum of Art in Dallas, Cris Worley Fine Arts in Dallas, C24 Gallery and Field Projects in New York City, and Galerie Droste in Germany. She was the winner of the 2021 Hopper Prize. She was selected as a candidate of the Saatchi Art 2020 Rising Stars under 35 Class and a 2021 New Voices Top 100 Artists. She and her work have been featured on the Washington Post, New York Times, Artland, Artsy, D Magazine, Glasstire and Patron Magazine.

Lakea Shepard Lakea Shepard (born/resides in Winston-Salem, NC) is a mixed media designer, sculptor, and milliner. Lakea studied Visual Arts (UNC School of the Arts) and received her BFA in Crafts with focus in Fibers (College for Creative Studies) in 2013. She also attended New York Studio Residency in DUMBO, NYC. Being raised by a mechanic and textile worker birthed Lakea’s passion for designing “head-sculptures” using traditional African textile techniques including; beading, weaving, and basketry. Her work is submerged in symbolic universal objects speaking to obstacles within Black America. The ideas for her work are developed through dreams, historical traumas, and personal life events. Each sculpture Lakea creates incorporates her signature, red thread, symbolizing vitality and womanhood. The red thread is also metaphorical for veins, which is her effort to bring her ideas “alive”. Lakea’s work is known in many galleries, including the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh. She currently resides back in her hometown and continues to work in her studio in Greensboro, NC.  

Raymond Thompson Raymond is an artist, educator, and visual journalist based in Austin, TX. He works as an Assistant Professor of Photojournalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He has received an MFA in Photography from West Virginia University and a MA in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. He also graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a BA in American Studies. He was the 2023 winner of the 1619 Aftermath Grant. He has been a freelance photographer for The New York Times, The Intercept, NBC News, NPR, Politico, ProPublica, The Nature Conservancy, ACLU, WBEZ, Google, Merrell, and the Associated Press.


The mission of HMAAC is to collect, conserve, explore, interpret, and exhibit the material and intellectual culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston, the state of Texas, the southwest and the African Diaspora for current and future generations. In fulfilling its mission, HMAAC seeks to invite and engage visitors of every race and background and to inspire children of all ages through discovery-driven learning. HMAAC is to be a museum for all people. While our focus is the African American experience, our story informs and includes not only people of color, but people of all colors. As a result, the stories and exhibitions that HMAAC will bring to Texas are about the indisputable fact that while our experience is a unique one, it has been impacted by and has impacted numerous races, genders and ethnicities. The museum continues to be a space where a multicultural conversation on race geared toward a common future takes place.


Featured image top: Mami Wata Movie 

Featured image: Lakea Shepard, In Heaven and on Earth,Mixed fiber yarns(wool, acrylic, linen, cotton, and polyester), mixed-media beads, vintage purses, wire, felt, rope, foil, styrofoam, gemstones, aerosol paint, vintage jewelry, 30in x 30in x 20ft, 2023

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