In the article by Suzanne Blier, "Imaging Otherness in Ivory" and the article by Henry Drewal, "Mami Wata Shrines," we are starting to understand how foreigners or “others” have an influence on different cultures. Blier says: “people intentionally or unintentionally use the objects of others to define themselves," explaining how the Portuguese, (often portrayed as Olokun), had an influence on three different African cultures, the Beni, Kongo, and the Sapi, and how they assimilated the visual culture of the “others”. Biers’ information talks about such objects as ivory sculptures of the people of the Benin, Kongo and Sapi of the 15th century (considered to be the prime time of life for Africa). As seen in the culture of the Portuguese, symbols are very similar to that of the “Cross with Christ” as we know it and the implements of the crossroads of their culture are some of the visual perspectives that for take a crossing of intercultural perspectives. Some visual perspectives of the Benin are pairs, twisted postures, angels, fish, water, mudfish (predominantly), and other worldly realms. The visual aspects of the Kongo pertain to perceptions of special farming, spiral lines (with the significance being seen in textiles, on ivory, crowns, and on hats), supernatural images, and abstract textiles. While the visual perceptions of the Sapi demonstrate; bars to spears, seated in bent knee, large heads, snakes, birds, dogs, crocodiles (that represent wealth), and egg shapes.
“Mami Wata Shrines”
We are now into the 18th -19th century referring to the “others” as the Hindu and Indian and all other cultures not of African descent. They don’t understand the general idea of the unknown- “people from across the sea.” Ivory was acquired for European export taking forms of saltcellars, trumpets, spoons, and Catholic ritual objects such as pyxes.
Raffia textiles were seen as a map to get to the underworld, spirals as longevity and paths such as the crossroads giving meaning to the understanding of controlling the two worlds (life and death), being able to go back and forth between them. The devotees are those of a spiritual devotion, worshipers, those who will help record the significances of “Mami Wata” with objects and rituals. Although having two completely different meanings, they were able to relate their own beliefs and ideas onto their objects that related to the Christians ideas of that of the Portuguese.
It was a very intense ending into conventional African art as we move into unconventional African art.