Rotterdam Cultural Histories #24: Mama Aisa

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Kunstinstituut Melly invites Boris van Berkum and Marian Markelo in light of the 150th commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname which is celebrated during Keti Koti on the 1st of July, and the 24th edition of our Rotterdam Cultural Histories exhibition. Marian Markelo opened the ceremony in Amsterdam on the 1st of July by performing a libation, accompanied by dancer Vanessa Felter, who wore a Kabra-ancestor mask made by Van Berkum. Markelo and Felter have worked together since 2013.

Van Berkum made a sculpture in collaboration with Markelo, of the Winti goddess Mama Aisa, who represents love, compassion, and inclusivity. With the work forming the focal point of this exhibition, we aim to center care, understanding, and connection with each other. Part of Keti Koti’s 150th commemoration, the Rotterdam Cultural Histories exhibition, entitled Mama Aisa, focuses on Winti culture. By presenting the work of Van Berkum and Markelo, we want to contribute to the representation of Surinamese diaspora, culture, and beliefs. People of Surinamese descent make up the largest minority group in Rotterdam, where Kunstinstituut Melly is based, and we recognize the importance of giving voice to stories and histories that are institutionally underrepresented.

Winti developed in Suriname. During Dutch colonization, enslaved people brought West-African beliefs and perspectives to Suriname, where these concepts formed the basis of Winti. People living in Suriname, as well as the country’s diaspora, continue to practice Winti today. Winti rituals and traditions are about being with others and taking time for each other, both with the living and the deceased ancestors. The Winti god of creation is Anana Keduaman Keduampon, who created a number of Winti gods and goddesses, sent to help humans. Winti, another word for these deities, is often connected to the forces of nature: air, earth, water, and the forest. The highest Winti is Mama Aisa (Mother Earth), also known as Wanaisa or Maisa. The creator of life and death, Mama Aisa is the goddess of flora and fauna; protector of the arts, medicine, and commerce.

In making their work, Van Berkum and Markelo celebrate the power of connection, diversity, and cultural exchange, inviting audiences to engage with Winti beliefs and traditions. Central to this exhibition is the representation of one of the most important Winti, Mama Aisa, Mother Earth. The sculpture, created by Boris van Berkum, was modeled on Marian Markelo, for whom Mama Aisa plays an important role in Winti culture and practices. In his designs, Van Berkum incorporates West-African art objects that he and Markelo select from the collections of Dutch ethnographic museums. He makes 3D scans of these artworks and assembles them into new designs. Before the selected pieces are scanned, Markelo performs a libation to the ancestors, inviting the object’s makers to participate in the project. Namely for Van Berkum and Markelo, the African ancestors are important collaborators.

For more information and updates on the Mama Aisa sculptures, also visit:




Supported By

CBK RotterdamMondriaan Fund, Kayden Stone & Ceramics

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