Harvard Business School announced today the addition of a new sculpture to its campus, Sentinel (Mami Wata) by artist Simone Leigh, as part of the School’s ongoing outdoor contemporary art program. This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Bridgitt (M.B.A. 1986) and Bruce Evans (MBA 1986) and through the establishment of the Bridgitt and Bruce Evans Contemporary Art Fund at Harvard Business School. Sentinel (Mami Wata) will be on loan to the School through 2027.
Originally commissioned for the exhibition Prospect.5 in New Orleans, Leigh’s 2020-21 bronze sculpture Sentinel (Mami Wata) is a work that invites reflection on the way African cultural symbols traverse the African diaspora, shifting and metamorphosing as they intersect with local traditions. Leigh describes the sculpture as “my interpretation of a West African water spirit, a deity who has destructive powers as well as creative-generative ones.” The work takes as inspiration the figure of Mami Wata, an animistic deity that is celebrated throughout Africa and the African diaspora, including the United States, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Mami Wata is expressed in unique ways and called different names in various cultures throughout the diaspora as syncretic religious contexts have merged her persona with Christian saints or indigenous spiritual figures. However, her essence as a beguiling water spirit endures across geographies. Representations of Mami Wata often take the form of a mermaid or snake charmer, an amphibious corporeality that emphasizes the fraught relationship between people of African descent and water in the aftermath of the transatlantic slave trade.