Photography by Adama Delphine Fawundu
The Sacred Star of Isis
As the only child in her immediate family born in America, Fawundu’s mixed media photographic works explore the tension between her family’s traditional Mende beliefs (Sierra Leone) and Westernized values. By incorporating ancestral gifts of colorful handmade batik fabrics and layering these complex and distorted histories, her work uncovers personal and universal cultural patterns that are present within herself and the African Diaspora.
In this of work, the artist takes the ancient West African deity, Mami Wata, as a departure point and builds on her engagement with her Mende heritage of Sierra Leone. Linking known and under-recognized geographies of the African diaspora, Ms. Fawundu’s work upends national and temporal borders, invoking interconnectivity and transformation across cultural and environmental thresholds.
Within the artist’s world, we move between Sierra Leone, Argentina, Harlem, Nigeria, Amagansett (NY), Massachusetts, and upstate New York. Here she generates connective threads of exchange between the magical space of nature and the material structures of history. Inhabiting colonial architecture, wooded forest, balls of cotton, and her childhood hairdo of the crescent curl, Ms. Fawundu reformulates spaces of positivity and empowerment in the shadows of cultural annihilation and historic violence.
“Adama Delphine Fawundu’s work is about finding ways to connect with her kin – a group not merely confined to those who share a direct common ancestor but an expansive definition inclusive of the many who descend from the dispersed, the stolen, those for whom the violence, and opportunity wrought by the sea is at once a spectre and a fact of everyday life.”Writes scholar Niama Safia Sandy.
The exhibition includes video works and a series of photographs titled the The Sacred Star of Isis (2017- ongoing) featuring the artist occupying a host of settings that bore witness to events of the diaspora. Documenting herself as a black female agent within these ghostly sites, Adama Delphine Fawundu employs masks, garments, and gestures to mark the specificity of her locations and to unearth stories that sit beneath their surfaces. The artist is also premiering a series of mixed media works inspired by fabrics hand-dyed by her paternal grandmother, Adama, and her aunt of Sierra Leone.
Water and hair are two textures that permeate the exhibition, each evoking a profound form of doubling that inspires much of the artist’s work. For Fawundu, water symbolizes the horrific journey of slavery and the journey that her parents chose when they moved to the US. Hair remains a socially-engineered construct of beauty and was also used as a mapping device for runaway slaves through the formation of cornrows. Uncovering nuanced entanglements within such sources of oppression, Adama Delphine Fawundu re-imagines and glorifies the strength of her identity, culture, and network of kin.
Adama Delphine Fawundu is a visual artist, author and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-founder of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. Her extensive exhibition record includes the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Steve Kasher Gallery, Pulse Art Fair, the Lagos Photo Festival, The Brighton Photo Biennial (UK), Norton Museum of Art, Villa La Pietra (Italy), and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago). Fawundu’s works can also be found in the private and public collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Historical Society, The Norton Museum of Art, Corridor Art Gallery, The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, and The Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.
In recognition of her artistic practice, Adama Delphine Fawundu was nominated for and won the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Award and named one of OkayAfrica’s ‘100 Women making an impact on Africa and its Diaspora.’ She was also included in the Royal Photographic Society’s (UK) ‘Hundred Heroines.’ Fawundu received her MFA from Columbia University.