Adama Delphine Fawundu
I can trace my family’s history several generations back to a small island off the coast of Sierra Leone, West Africa named Mano. This makes me curious about the spiritual, cultural, and ideological pre-colonial ways of being that was disrupted by voluntary immigration, colonialism, and distorted within the African Diaspora through oppressive systems stemming from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
As the only child in my immediate family born in America, my connections to Sierra Leone, was
through stories of the place where my Mende father was born and my mother was raised as a
Krio (freed Diasporan Africans who settled in Freetown). In addition to the day-to-day
experience of growing up Catholic in a British Colony, I heard mystical stories of medicine men, Bondo Nomoli’s (masked beings), and Mami Wata, a shape shifting water goddess who only a few get to see. I learned the idea that ancestral spirits were to be respected as they cleared the way for the living. Libations, Sarra (cooking for the dead and small personal sacrifices) were normal activities in my home even though my parents were firm Catholics. Growing up, my family were proud Sierra Leoneans, my dad often reminded me that we come from a lineage of Mende chiefs. However, this was quite different from the stereotypical ‘African’ identity that I was exposed to during my schooling and in the American media. Through family, I was introduced to this complex place with many different ethnicities, languages, foods and traditional practices, but, outside of family, my heritage was homogenized into a negative African identity.
My understandings of family cultural traditions have always been a merge between traditional
Mende beliefs and Westernized values. Family gifts of colorful batik fabrics handmade by my
deceased Grandma Adama and her daughter Mary sustained my connection to my ancestral
home. Over the past year I’ve been obsessing over patterns and layers in my practice and have
incorporated these fabrics into my works. My obsession stems from an inner desire to trace
layers of complex and distorted histories, and uncover personal and universal cultural patterns that are present within myself and the African Diaspora. Although, it is impossible to make
perfect sense out of the pure pre-colonial identities living within my psyche, I persist on this never ending journey using myself as the main character in most of my works.
In my most recent installation, The Sacred Star of Isis and other Stories. I created an
environment manifesting conversations between African deities and the diaspora. These
deities have shape shifted and traveled throughout space and time, while also existing in the true world, the world that we humans do not have full access to. This understanding gives me the freedom to create various iterations of these beings as they interfere, interact, intersect
and confront social and cultural ways of the African diasporas past, present and future.
The mask, has a strong presence in Mende culture and is very important in my work as it is a powerful tool for me to manipulate identity. I use photographs and video installation to
interact with the idea of masking through layering of sounds (contemporary hip/trap,
traditional Mende drumming), text, fabric patterns, hair, cowrie shells, straw, and cotton.