Curator’s Diary May 2019: British Council in Rome

LBritish_Councilast month, I was fortunate to participate in the UK cultural delegation to Rome, sponsored by the British Council. This was a wonderful opportunity to share news of projects being undertaking at cultural institutions in the UK.

The 2-day networking meeting opened with a reception hosted by the British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris. Her residence provided the perfect atmosphere for an informal discussion about potential collaborations as we approach the UK-Italy year of culture in 2020.

It was also an important chance to meet colleagues from the UK (including one from Manchester!), whose paths have not necessarily crossed with my own – and as a direct result I am now in fruitful discussions with several institutions about prospective loans of our most significant Egyptian material while we are temporarily closed for our ‘Hello Future’ project. More on this soon.

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I was delighted to hear several speakers mention – and indeed praise – Manchester Museum for our emerging work on decolonisation – “acknowledging that the British Empire did actually happen” – with our current exhibition on the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh massacre cited in particular. The meeting provided a welcome opportunity to open discussion with an Italian museum about taking our award-winning UK-touring exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ to the continent – more on THAT soon as well.

A special highlight – and the main reason I went on the trip – was meeting a colleague from the Museo Egizio, whose work has lead the way in inclusivity, caring, and imagination. A recent project with Arabic speakers drew criticism from the Italian far right, highlighting the important role of museums in social and civic rights. There’s lots we can learn at Manchester Museum from our Turinese colleagues and I look forward to ongoing dialogue.

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Naturally, there was also ample chance to visit museums and galleries. Thankfully, an ICOM card secured immediate entry into the Vatican Museums – otherwise I’d have been waiting in a queue of hundreds of people – inflated by those in town for Holy Week celebrations in the lead up to Easter. The Vatican’s Egyptian galleries had been reconfigured somewhat since my last visit 10 years ago, and showcase highlights of a marvellous collection – probably overlooked because of the strength of the rest of the Vatican’s incredible holdings. I got to see perhaps the best exhibition ever on the tendency of some sculptures to influence later ones at the National Roman Museum (complete with superbly effective lighting and sound – noted). I also managed almost to check off all of Rome’s obelisks…

Obelisk

I’m particularly grateful to our Director Esme Ward for encouraging me to apply to the programme, and hope to report further collaborations with Italian institutions soon.

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The Egyptian Revolt of 1919 & its aftermath

Museum Studies placement student William Pridden considers the significance of a recently acquired historic photograph in light of the 200 year anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, and the centenary of both the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre and the rather less well-known 1919 revolts against British rule in Egypt. 

An artefact can tell many stories. The truth of this statement grew clearer each day as I began researching a surprising photograph found in a gallery, among other assorted artefacts, from Luxor, Egypt. The photograph depicts the King of Egypt and Egyptian officials in the company of British dignitaries. What at first appeared to be a simple photo of a King visiting a foreign country soon turned into a narrative of freedom, oppression and violence: entwining the sovereignty of Egypt with the city of Manchester.

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King Fuad of Egypt with Mohamed Shaheen Pasha, private physician to the king; Amin Auis Pasha, Vice director of the royal cabinet; Ahmed Mohammad Hassanein Bey, first chamberlain; Achille Sekaly Bey; lieutenant colonel Khairy Bey, Aide-de-camp and M. Illias Ismail, Egyptian consul at Liverpool. Manchester officials: Lord Mayor, James Henry Swales; Lady Mayoress; Mr. Heath, Town Clerk; Alderman Miles Mitchel, Deputy Mayor; Aldermen T. Fox, Derwent Simpson and Robert Turner. 1927.

The photograph was taken during King Fuad’s visit to Manchester in 1927, during which time Egypt was still under occupation by the British Military despite having secured official ‘Independence’ in 1922. The King’s visit was in celebration of the area’s long history in the cotton industry as Egypt provided the vast bulk of cotton supplies to the North West at this time. However, King Fuad’s message to the Mayor of Manchester arguably alludes to the true intention of his trip: to highlight Egypt’s long struggle for self-determination.  King Fuad highlighted the importance of the Egyptian people in the growing of the cotton industry, describing the River Nile as being the lifeblood of his countrymen. The King also drew similarities between the civic governors of Manchester and Egypt in regards to their faith and character. The speech appeared to emphasise Egypt’s reliability as an independent nation and assured the British people of a continuing collaboration, finally stating that Egypt had “no truer friend or more sympathetic watcher” than the British Empire.

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Protesters against British rule, Cairo 1919

The British newspapers spoke of the crowds cheering for King Fuad, of the sun shining down on the city, of the King saluting the Cenotaph to applause:  no mention was made of the Egyptian Revolution in 1919. From March to July it is estimated that 800 Egyptian civilians were killed throughout the country with a further 39 sentenced to death by the British Empire. Those who were not killed were arrested with over 2,000 people jailed as a result of civil unrest. The revolution was an act of unity among the entire Egyptian populous with women and men, poor and rich, attempting to free the country from colonial rule.

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Egyptian women protest, 1919

The 1919 Revolution marks a continuing narrative of oppression not usually discussed in the British Media. As the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre approaches (in which 1,600 Indians lost their lives) it is important to remember the harsh reality of colonial rule. The events of the Egyptian Revolution and the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre are not independent of each other, but instead are part of a shared universal history among former colonial countries and deserve to be remembered: rather than being forgotten due to shame. The photo of King Fuad’s visit represents a struggle for freedom and the chance to make amends. By remembering these colonial transgressions, a greater dialogue on tolerance can be learnt.

 

William Pridden is a Museum Studies student at the University of Durham. The photograph (accession number 14088) was purchased in Luxor and kindly donated by Tom Hardwick in honour of my predecessor as Curator of Egyptology, Christina Riggs.

Our new exhibition Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab Under Seige opens this week. The 1927 photograph will be on display in our third floor space later this month.

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Object Biography #23: A False Door of Kha-Inpu (Acc. no. TN R4567/1937)

This pair of finely executed limestone reliefs comes from a larger false door emplacement. They entered the Manchester Museum from the collection of pharmaceutical baron Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), whose vast numbers of objects apparently included material acquired from the collection of Victorian socialite Lady Meux (1847-1910) – including the present object. Pieces from the same tomb chapel are now in the Field Museum of Chicago and the Louvre. When first identified in the Wellcome collection, the limestone was marred by salt encrustations. Fortunately it has now been conserved.

Kha-inpu

The false door of Kha-Inpu

The purpose of the false door was to channel the presence of the deceased (or of a deity in some temples) into a sacred space in order to receive offerings. The eternal needs of the ‘ka’ (the spirit of sustenance) mirrored to some extent the needs of the living to interact with the deceased, and the relationship between the two were hoped to be reciprocal. The false door was thus the focal point of the architecture of the elite Old Kingdom tomb chapel, although the false door motif continues on the sides of Middle Kingdom coffins and even appears on those of the Late Period. Depicting a door remained a key metaphysical conduit between the worlds of the dead or divine and the living.

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The false door motif on the coffin of Asru, c. 650 BC

In design, stone false doors varied considerably over time but tended to include several key elements: the recessed and bolted door itself, a curved drum above this, usually with the name of the deceased, and a central offering scene showing the deceased (and sometimes their spouse) seated at a table. The image, name and titles of the deceased are often repeated multiple times – perhaps to ensure that were one or other damaged then the spirit of the deceased would ‘survive’ through the others, although this is conjecture and apparently not stated explicitly in the ancient sources.

Here, Kha-Inpu is designated as the ‘overseer of the gold of the storehouse of the double house of the palace’, a role associated with resource management – a typical concern for the redistribution of goods that temples had even in the Old Kingdom. He served the cults centred on pyramids of the deceased Fifth Dynasty kings Neferirkare and Niuserre, located just next to each other at the site of Abusir. The ancient name of the pyramid temple of King Niuserre was Men-sut-Niuserre (‘Enduring are the Places of Niuserre’) and that of King Neferirkare, Ba-Neferirkare (‘Soul of Neferirkare’). A Czech Mission at Abusir recently identified the location of Kha-inpu’s tomb there, although previously it has been thought to have been located at Saqqara. We know about the functioning of the cultic activities in which Kha-inpu is likely to have been involved from the ‘Abusir archive’, a rich and important set of papyrus documents detailing the organisation of temple staff and their regular duties.

Abusir-Giza

The pyramids of (l-r) Neferirkare, Niuserre and Sahure at Abusir, with Giza (the arrangement on which they appear to have been modelled) behind. Photo: Ian Mathieson

The active, temple-based worship of Niuserre may have survived into the Middle Kingdom, with the presence of the tombs of two officials named Herishefhotep indicating that a functioning cult for the king lasted into at least the First Intermediate Period. The Manchester false door is an eloquent – and very finely-executed – testament to that cult.

Although our Ancient World galleries are temporarily closed, I am re-starting the Object Biography series with this post – which will be published in parallel by Ancient Egypt Magazine. 

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Curator’s Diary October 2018 – BM Interpretation Workshop in Aswan

I have just returned from helping to facilitate a workshop on interpretation organised by the British Museum International Training Programme (ITP) at the Nubian Museum, in Aswan, southern Egypt. I was delighted to join Dr Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and Jane Batty and Stuart Frost,  of the BM’s Interpretation Dept. In addition to fellow facilitators Jackline Besigye (Uganda National Museum), Huzoor Choudhry (Huzoor Designs, India), Vandana Prapanna (CSMVA, Mumbai), we were given a wonderful Nubian welcome – with lively music and participatory dancing – and the chance to meet some 30 Egyptian and Sudanese colleagues.

Serious discussion

The Nubian Museum opened in 1997 and I had previously visited in 2005. It is one of those rare – and fortunate – museums that appears to defy the aging process, and I was struck by how fresh the displays still appeared, despite being relatively unchanged since my visit 13 years earlier. The Museum provided a perfect venue for discussion about interpreting Egyptian and Sudanese collections. Facilitators benefitted from a personal, introductory guided tour of the public galleries and behind the scenes spaces by the Director, Dr Hosny Abd el Rheem.

Bright, colourfully decorated education spaces contrasted with the darker, more dramatically lit display galleries. Our group were impressed by the award-winning architecture of the Museum, which is sympathetic to local building traditions. Especially effective use is made of outside spaces, including a reconstruction of a traditional Nubian House, an immersive ‘cave’ incorporating relocated rock art, and a sweeping amphitheatre space for major public performances.  The way the Museum tackled the representation of living Nubian culture – particularly surrounding issues of displacement during the construction of the Aswan High Dam – was noteworthy.

Labels – the bain of every curator’s life?

During the workshop, it was a privilege to reconnect with the vibrant ITP network on Egyptian soil, building on relationships forged through the international Summer programme, to which Manchester Museum has played host for some 10 years. Great to see several ITP past fellows and to meet new colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Discussion of interpretation focussed, inevitably, on label and panel text-writing, in addition to alternative strategies such as multimedia and performance/events. We agreed on the importance of that strange alchemy of ‘curatorial’ and ‘interpretation’ approaches to interpretation. Jane Batty introduced the BM’s very useful ‘Top 10 Tips’ for effective interpretation. I was especially struck by the importance of physically connecting text to specific objects rather than letting text float alone, in the hope that someone will read it.

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Campbell & Anna enjoying the Nubian sunshine

I have always been an advocate of object numbers on labels – the British Museum apparently less so. An excellent point that was raised in my discussion group was that it is perhaps only appropriate to dispense with accession numbers on labels if you have a reliable, working online catalogue to look the object up in or a comprehensive published catalogue for your temporary or permanent displays. Lacking these tools, accession numbers still seem a valuable tool for both collections management and finding out further information.

Throughout the almost week-long preparation for and delivery of the workshop, it really hit home just how similar our challenges are – from the biggest museum to the smallest, from Mumbai, to Cairo, Aswan to Manchester. ITP is not simply about “telling” other people how to “do” interpretation the British Museum way, but creating a genuine dialogue that can lead to collaborative interpretation. With so many excellent museum collections in Egypt and Sudan, and after this opportunity to discuss common approaches at length, I look forward to working more closely with Egyptian and Sudanese museum colleagues in future.

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Study Day – Saturday 16 Feb 2019: The Two Brothers

The Two Brothers: Kinship in Ancient Egypt – Manchester Museum Day School

Full Programme and Abstracts here

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The ‘Two Brothers’ tomb group has been an important part of the Egyptology display in the Manchester Museum for over a hundred years. It is one of the finest group of objects from a private burial of the Middle Kingdom and this year’s annual study day brings together experts to review this collection, examine the scientific investigations that have been carried out and the results of the latest DNA studies. The discussion will widen to consider kinship in general in ancient Egypt. Proceeds from this event will be donated to hellofuture – Manchester Museum’s new development project.

Venue – Lecture Theatre A, University Place (opposite Museum). Price – £35. Bookings can be made here: www.bit.ly/AEkinship.

Programme

9.15          Registration: tea/coffee

9.45          Welcome and Introduction

10.00          Interpreting the Two Brothers at Manchester Museum – Campbell Price

10.45          The Two Brothers: Health and disease Rosalie David

11.30           Tea/coffee break

12.00          Were they brothers? The DNA evidence – Roger Forshaw 

12.30          Picture perfect and bad blood: Funerary evidence of familial relationships from the Ancient Egyptian necropolis at Saqqara – Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin

1.15            – Lunch – (please make own arrangements)                         

2.15      So what did it mean to be brothers in ancient Egypt? – Leire Olabarria

3.15             – Tea/coffee break 

3.40            Gladden her heart as long as you live: wealth, death and divorce in non-royal close-kin marriages in ancient Egypt – Joanne Robinson

4.30            Conclusion

 

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Closure of Ancient Worlds galleries

It’s a Wrap as Manchester Museum closes its Ancient Worlds Galleries, Reopening in 2021

Egyptian rowers

Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester, will be taking its much loved objects on tour over the next three years as the museum undergoes an exciting £13 million transformation, hello future. The museum will be building a new two-storey extension, which includes a partnership South Asia gallery with The British Museum, Chinese Culture gallery, Special Exhibitions Hall a new entrance and shop, making it more inclusive, imaginative and relevant to the diverse communities it serves.

During this time the museum will remain open, however its Ancient Worlds galleries will close on the 1st of October until early 2021 in order to keep displayed collections safe while extensive building work takes place. Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan, said: “While this may seem disappointing for the many visitors that come to Manchester Museum to see its significant Egyptian collection, this is an exciting opportunity for the museum to take its objects out on the road to all sorts of new spaces and places, building new partnerships across the city and the world.”

Manchester Museum will also be lending Egyptian artefacts to a larger number of external exhibitions on a temporary basis such as Bolton, Liverpool, and Wakefield and at several venues around Europe. While the Ancient Worlds galleries are closed, access to stored collections will continue for researchers. Upon re-opening in 2021, a larger number of the museum’s Egyptology collections will be on display, including never-before-seen stonework.

On Thursday 20 September, 6-10pm, Manchester Museum is hosting a celebration to say goodbye to its Ancient Worlds galleries. The event, It’s a Wrap is an evening of music, poetry and performance. Come along to hear the hieroglyphs, handle never-before-seen objects and join Manchester Museum in raising a farewell toast to its much loved Ancient Egypt gallery, reopening in 2021. 

 

 

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Curator’s Diary June 2018: Up Close with the Sphinx, Ancient and Modern

Last month I had the chance to spend a couple of days in close proximity with the Great Sphinx at Giza whilst filming a documentary for Discovery Channel (a crash course in pithy communication, ideal for museum curators). Unrestricted admittance to the Sphinx enclosure (usually off-limits to visitors) prompted me to consider the degree of access ancient people might have had to this iconic monument, and how those ancient monuments have in turn shaped our expectation of the tourist experience today.

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In modern times, hundreds of tourists and local Cairenes pose for thousands of photos at the Great Sphinx each day. The recent cult of the selfie has assured the iconic status of this human-headed lion, whose colossal profile is particularly suited to ‘kissing’ photos. This sort of interaction has been enabled and encouraged by the convenient modern viewing platforms flanking the Great Sphinx to north and south.

This has not always been the case. Until the mid-20th Century, the Sphinx was largely covered in sand. Visitors to Giza saw the colossal head sticking out of the sand, and recorded their impressions of its forlorn, sad nature – playing perfectly into the Romantic 19th Century image of picturesque vestiges of a lost civilization. Colossal royal statues in particular fit the narrative of the despotic, Oriental ruler undone, dethroned by the progress of History. As with Shelley’s Ozymandias, ‘nothing beside remains… lone and level sands stretch far away’ from the Sphinx. As Mark Twain observed in 1869, the Sphinx is ‘grand in its loneliness.’ But the advent of photography meant that the Sphinx didn’t remain alone for long.

SPHINX-1882

Of many similar images, perhaps the most resonant is this (above) from 1882 – the year Britain tightened its colonial grip on Egypt and the same year the Egypt Exploration Fund was founded. The British officers in full dress kilts and pith helmets, some with hands imperiously on hips, make clear the sense of entitled ownership of Egypt as an imperial possession.

Any photograph is, of course, not a neutral record of ‘what happened’ – especially in archaeology, as Christina Riggs has recently demonstrated for the Harry Burton Tutankhamun archive. These colonial set-pieces with the Sphinx have at their core the same highly constructed projections as any modern selfie. Photos of the Sphinx are also a useful index of the restoration work done to beautify – and ostensibly ‘restore’ – the sculpture for popular consumption. The Sphinx is prepared today for the mass tourist market, but only VIPs can actually get up close to it.

In contrast, surprisingly little is known about ancient perceptions of the Sphinx. Leaving aside the debate of who was actually responsible for its construction (Khafre is favoured by current Egyptological consensus, and who Discovery plump for in the doc), it may seem surprising that there is no Old Kingdom reference to it at all. Only in the New Kingdom (c. 1400 BC) do textual sources talk about the statue in terms of an identity – a divine identity – as ‘Horus in the Horizon’ (Horemakhet).

Although the term ‘shesep ankh’ (lit: ‘living image’) is often cited in Egyptological publications as the term for ‘sphinx’, in fact it rather appears (by the mid-18th Dynasty at least) that this was simply an epithet of the Pharaoh as a ‘living image’ of a god, usually the deity Atum. Ancient Egyptian terms for ‘statue’ are more nuanced than the space here allows (that’ll have to wait until my book on Egyptian statues…) but it was really only the chance to spend time with Sphinx at Giza that brought these issues into focus for me.

Shesep ankh

Tuthmose III described as ‘Living Image of Atum’ at his Karnak ‘Festival Hall’

In New Kingdom texts the Sphinx enclosure is referred to as ‘setepet’ (meaning ‘most select/chosen place’) and massive mudbrick walls would have restricted access to it, even views of it, perhaps only to the highest elite. This is in contrast to the assumption we may form based on the hordes of visitors the Sphinx receives nowadays and on apparent evidence of a Roman Period ‘viewing platform’.

The quizzical (envious? outraged?) looks I received whilst poncing about on camera between the great paws of the Sphinx, brought home to me that access is rarely equal – even to as impressive a divine image as the great Sphinx. Did I have any more right to get up close to the Sphinx than the Egyptian school children on a day out?

The Discovery documentary (due to air Stateside late Summer) gives a rather televisual interpretation of the Sphinx as a ‘Mythical Beast’, but was an opportunity to feed in my own interpretations which – I hope – make the final edit. Perhaps instead of thinking of colossal royal statues in terms of bland ‘propaganda’, we should think in terms of the divisive nature of access (physical, ritual, intellectual) to them and how this shaped ancient and modern interactions with the past.

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