Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mummies and a Picasso

During my six weeks off from Uni (which I really really needed) I managed to leave my little apartment to go see things at the local museums and at the art gallery. There were two exhibits that I wanted to see, one was called Secrets of the Afterlife, and the other one was about paintings from .. well basically the masters. Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt (hopefully I'm spelling these right) etc. Both exhibits are at different museums, but within easy walking distance of one another. 

I have fond memories of visiting the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum when I was little. The deal was, that every summer I'd visit a set of grandparents for a week. During that week my grandmother would go to the salon to get her hair done and nails touched up. Neither my grandfather or I wanted to sit there for several hours and wait for her, so we would always go to the museum and wander around in there for a while. When we went it was fairly dark inside, with spotlit exhibits, so that it felt like you were going into a tomb. I have no idea if it's still like that today, since I haven't been back in years and years, but I still loved it. My grandfather used to try to explain things to me, but for reasons that are totally beyond me I could never understand a word he said. Believe me, it still annoys me. After touring the museum we'd go for ice cream at a place called Farrells... I think. Like I said, it was a long time ago, so the memories are sort of hazy. In the end, I've got a soft spot for Egyptian exhibits.

So, finding that one of the local museums had a Egyptian exhibit (which I think originally started touring multiple museums around the world... because most of the materials said British Museum on them) I definitely was going to go. The first time I went, I didn't end up seeing it because it required separate tickets, it was crowded, and I was technically there to take photos for my Photo Work class. Truthfully though, it tends to be the amount of people that decides me on things, and there were too many people. Too many people for me... means breathing problems, a vicious mouth, and above all else, a huge need to run away. So I did, but came back a few weeks later when exams were over and I had time to putter and I went at lunch time. This means that everyone is eating lunch, and only a few neglected staffers are manning the exhibit. Given that there were few others there, I got to monopolize the volunteers who aren't technically museum staff, but DO possess a wealth of knowledge concerning the exhibit topic... which was all about the afterlife. 

The Goddess Sekhmet
I won't try explaining it, because I can't remember everything that was said about every figure, scroll, tablet, tool, sculpture, sarcophagus, mummy, canopic jars, and everything else, but I'll show the pictures I took of some of it. Picture taking was allowed as long as you didn't use flash, which is fairly standard practice. No worries with me though. I hate using the flash.

The museum was selling a book about the exhibit which I now wish I had purchased. At the time I was thinking, "My room is tiny, and I don't want to fill it with stuff that's just going to gather dust." If I had the book, I'd be able to tell you about all this stuff, and make this post a lot less boring than it already is. Sorry, but I'll just have to muddle through it. From what I remember the statue of Sekhmet was found inside an undisturbed tomb, and she's also the only statue in the entire exhibit that size that retained her nose. Her arms however didn't fair so well, and were apparently gone when the tomb was opened. 
Amenhotep (can't remember which one) Shabti

Anyone who has seen the movie the Mummy will probably remember the name Amenhotep? Perhaps not... Anyway, there have been several Amenhoteps and I can't remember which one this is, but I think it's Amenhotep II. This isn't actually him, but it's made to be him in every way that would've counted for a high class personage like himself. This is his Shabti. The ancient Egyptians believed that the next world was one where work was still needing to be done. Which meant, fields needed tending, writing still needed doing, etc. But, gee, you just got done with a life of work if you were lower caste, and for high class individuals, the thought of having to do actual labor in the next life was NOT appealing. That's where our little shabti friend comes in. He's made to look like you, and is inscribed with instructions that tell you how you get him to do all the afterlife work for you, so you can kick back and take it easy. Personally, I consider this cheating, but hey, every culture has it's own moral system. I have to wonder though.... What happened if the Gods figured out you were just screwing around in the afterlife while your clone was running around doing all the work. I've asked this question before, and apparently it's never actually come up in research/studies. Perhaps they ancient Egyptians never had that thought occur to them. Usually I get blank stares when I ask museum know it alls about it.

Wood tablet with instructions for the Afterlife
I love this tablet for it's colors and because it's made of wood. Wood. 4,000 year old wood. It boggles my mind. How the hell did they make paints that remain vibrant that long, and what kind of sealant did they use to keep the wood from crumbling to ash over the years. I know part of it has to do with it being in a sealed undisturbed tomb, but ... wow. This tablet was in beautiful condition. Only a few crumbling parts to be seen. 

The guy who was one of the fonts of knowledge they had wandering the exhibit basically tried to pour a cement truck sized load of information into my ear, which was great... but at the time my brain was fried from exams, so I could only take in so much. So, here is what I DO remember of what he said about this tablet, and this may be totally wrong, as he was sort of verbally wandering in his descriptions. When someone was entombed, instructions were left from the Book of the Dead on what to do to get into the afterlife. I think this is one of the instructions, as the person is offering food and other goodies to Horus, who is on the left with the sun on his head. If you didn't make a good impression, you didn't get to move on. Basically, you didn't get to move on to see Anubis, Thoth and Ammit ... well actually if you got to see Ammit it was generally very fast from the outside, and then a long span of time seeing Ammit's insides, because if you saw her, it meant that you were a very wicked person, and your soul wasn't lighter than a feather. And she got to eat you. *slurp*

This exhibit was fun because it was interactive. At the entrance you are asked to randomly draw a card from a jug/pot/bowl which has a picture of an ornament representing an ancient Egyptians spirit/heart. On the way out you find the real item, and say the person's name aloud to help guide them to the afterlife. Its a little cheesy, but so many places just have things you stare at instead of actively working with it. At the end of the exhibit you have to balance the scales to leave. I liked it, and so did a lot of the kids who were just catching up as I was leaving. 

"Violin and Grapes" Picasso
The second museum, I will have to go back to, because it was something of an odd day. I was with a friend and we were talking a lot, so I didn't get a chance to really look at all the artwork and instead was concentrating on what my friend was saying. She also walks faster than me. When I go to look at an exhibit, I tend to spend hours looking at things. I also didn't have my camera with me. It was supposed to be doing a torrential downpour that day... and it never did. So I left my camera home for no good reason. I did however have my iPhone on me, and I frequently forget that it's got a camera in it and it's the only reason I have this single picture of a Picasso still life. Normally, Picasso is not my favorite, because I find his work somehow broken and disconnected and somewhere on a deeper level unsettling. But "Violin and Grapes" doesn't strike me that way. It's warm somehow and has a depth to it that isn't in most of his other work. Maybe it's all the shadow play, or the wood that provides a comfort to the usual shards and edges, but I think this lowly still life is my favorite of his works. It's alive somehow...  Actually that's sort of an amusing statement, because somewhat opposite this painting was a modern work also involving a violin. It was called the self playing violin, and indeed as it perched atop it's little pedestal the sound of a violin flowed from it's insides without the use of a human or a bow. 

Okay. I really have to do some homework now. 
I think I've procrastinated enough. ;)