Art Histories Seminar
Mon 08 May 2017 | 15:00–17:00

Congolese Representations of the Female in Motion

Lesley Nicole Braun (University of Montreal / Art Histories Fellow 2016/17)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Painting by Abdal 22, 1966. HO.0.1.3951, collection RMCA Tervuren. Photo: RMCA Tervuren.
Painting by Abdal 22, 1966. HO.0.1.3951, collection RMCA Tervuren. Photo: RMCA Tervuren.

The capital city of Kinshasa is often portrayed by Congolese people as a seductive, duplicitous woman, luring people in with promises of riches. The icon most closely linked to some of the perils associated with modern city life is that of the Mami Wata. Mami Wata—a mystical siren common to many African contexts, and an amalgam of diverse cultural influences—is an integral part of Kinshasa’s social imaginary. Since the 1940s, depictions of Mami Wata have multiplied, circulating in popular paintings, songs, and dance. Most recently, her image swims through the channels of the internet.

Mami Wata communicates both the dubious nature of material accumulation as well as the dangers of women’s seductive powers which can lure men and women into unbridled consumption.The vicissitudes of economic life in the city require a particular kind of quotidian choreography, one which is characterized by improvisation and visibility. This paper explores some aesthetic representations of women’s visibility and the anxieties surrounding it. Specifically, we will consider the ways in which popular concert dancers are seen as an embodiment of the ambiguous forces associated with Mami Wata.

Lesley Braun is an anthropologist with a doctorate from the University of Montreal. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in Kinshasa, her book manuscript explores the world of Congolese popular dance, and the ways in which dancers challenge the status and roles of women in Congo. The concert dancer is perhaps the most visible figure in the Congolese public sphere, and her visibility circulating in popular culture and new media technology upsets norms espoused by intersecting traditional, colonial, and Pentecostal discourse. Braun is recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Award granted by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Her research has been funded by the Fonds de Rechereche Société et Culture du Québec, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

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