June 2022

Using Water to Build Black Mythologies

Water is a sacred element that sustains life while at the same time documenting pain and death. This makes it the perfect foundation to build mythologies of Black life.

Words by Niyi Okuboyejo

Photography by Rashida Zagon

"The Warriors Return"- An illustration capturing the characters within the world of Drexciya's music. Artwork by Abdul Qadim Haqq

Summer is upon us.

Most of us will engage with water for comfort or relief.

Within the African diaspora, water is a sacred element that has been used to activate stories.

This collection, titled Omi (Which means “water” in Yoruba) is inspired by patches of narratives of water from the diaspora.

These narratives are layered. 

Some of them are personal, such as artist Howardena Pindell’s painting Autobiography: Water (Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts) which vividly traces and links her family lineage to the middle passage.

Detail of Howardena Pindell’s "Autobiography Water/Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts," 1989.
Image Credit: Wadsworth Atheneum.

Others are developed through world building, as seen in Ellen Gallagher’s series of paintings and collages that are inspired by Drexciya.

Drexciya (The main point of inspiration for this collection) are a Techno duo from Detroit whose music centers around mythology they created about a great underwater civilization that was birthed from pregnant slaves thrown overboard during the middle passage. 

The music, and the comic that accompanied it, informed the colors for the collection, as well as prints such as our Abstract Nautilus.

Our Drexciya patchwork- which is a combination of several prints from past and present collections- is a representation of the bluest, deepest, and darkest parts of the seas that this civilization dwells.

Close up of Ijebu Shirt in Drexciya Patchwork


These narratives can also stem from cultural practices through mystics as well as ceremonial traditions such as libations.

Rainmakers in Yoruba culture are regarded as mystics that are charged with the responsibility of controlling the weather. 

Libations are a common practice within the African diaspora where one pours liquid to the ground to pay homage to ancestors and loved ones.

All these patches of narratives mimic the dynamism of water.

The same dynamism that is present in the song Water no Get Enemy by famous Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti.

The song documents the way we engage with water in its many forms.  

Like water, these stories become what they need to be based on the narrator they engage with.

Like water, they can refresh you.

Like water, they can cleanse you.

But also, like water, they can demand reverence.

This collection is now a patch of that narrative.

Wear it and be cleansed.


Please check the links below for a deeper dive into the artists, stories and practices mentioned in this article,

Howardena Pindell


Ellen Gallagher








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Ellen Gallagher's "Aquajujidsu," 2017.

Image Credit: Ellen Gallagher Hauser & Wirth.