Mami Wata is on a mission to bring African art and surf to the world

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From the shore, a wave is just a ripple in the distance. As it rolls toward you, gaining momentum and power, it molds and encapsulates with a unique blend of blues. When it finally makes land, and its foam envelops your feet, and its mist sweeps across your face, the feeling is inescapable.

Cultural waves are not different. You can’t see them coming from too far. But once they approach the shores of mass culture, you can’t help but let them carry you away. Mami Wata, a brand you won’t soon be able to ignore, aims to bring African art and surf to the coast. From Madagascar to Morocco, Liberia to Mozambique, Mami Wata is on a mission to be a creative force for good in Africa. Here, creative director and artist Peet Peinaar explains exactly how they plan to do it.

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Natalie Stoclet: Let’s start at the beginning. What is the historical relationship between art and surfing?

Peet Peinaar: One of the most linked images in art and surfing is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodcut made in 1831 by the Japanese artist Hokusai. In the 1960s and 1970s, a material shift from surfboards to fiberglass, Styrofoam and polyurethane foam was directly influenced by designers and artists such as Eero Aarnio. At the same time, images such as John Van Hammersveld’s iconic endless summer began to find their way into popular culture. In 1978, Michael Tomson and Joel Cooper . launched gotchathe first true lifestyle surf brand, which played a major role in the general aesthetic of the 80s. David Carson’s Ray Gun magazine, which mainly covered alternative music and surf cultures, had a major influence on graphic design in the 90s, when we saw artist Raymond Pettibon bring branding to the contemporary art world. What followed was a period of rest influenced by hipster culture and a nostalgic Pinterest aesthetic. But from the start, African art and design were excluded from the story.

NS: In what ways can visual storytelling bring people closer to African art and surfing?

PP: Social media and digital publishing have become a means of monetization within surfing. Followers, fame and film play a huge role for us in a highly competitive visual space. You see that many surfers are followed by teams of filmmakers and photographers, and vice versa, with surfers being invited by filmmakers to join them on a journey to create content. What’s new now is that there is a growing group of filmmakers, writers and photographers finding extraordinary stories within surfing. People want to know more about the person who is surfing now, and the untold stories in Africa bring freshness to that world.

NS: Can you explain Afrosurfonomics?

PP: When a place has a great surf break, let’s say in a remote location in Gabon, that break has the potential to generate sustainable income for the community that lives there. It’s surf tourism. We believe that surfing, when done right, can play a huge economic role in Africa, comparable to the role a ski slope plays in Europe.

NS: How does art enhance that economic opportunity?

PP: When a film, painting or song is made about a holiday in Gabon, it tempts people to travel there and experience it for themselves. Not only does it inform people about the place, it also has the power to tell a different story about Africa that we haven’t seen before.

NS: Africa’s coastline is 18,950 miles long – where are your favorite places to see the intersection of art and surfing?

PP: There are so many, but I have to say that my favorites are Dakar in Senegal and Dixcove in Ghana.

NS: What do you want people to know about African art?

PP: I want people to see African art as artnot excluded or boxed as Afrikaans but as part of the conversation as a whole.

NS: Mami Wata’s tagline is “The Power of African Surf” – what does that mean to you?

PP: Sorry for the pun, but there’s a huge wave of culture coming out of Africa, and it’s starting to hit the world. Africa is no longer a distant opaque continent, it is part of the globalized world as we know it. As we reconnect, we bring with us thousands of years of culture and art that were previously excluded. Surf is one of many overlapping connections between the West and Africa. I am convinced that this overlap is our strength.

NS: How do you think the worlds of art and surfing will merge further in the future?

PP: The future is merged. Globalization does not happen by living in the same neighbourhood, but within common interests such as art, work, music and sports. It is the point where parallel worlds connect and fall apart into one. It’s where the other becomes us. When the common interest is surfing, Africa has the opportunity to lead the way as it brings a fresh approach that is more up to date.