Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Good Friday

I returned to bid farewell to King Tut yesterday afternoon. This time I parked on JFK Way; a month and a half ago I parked on MLK Jr. Way. I didn't have anyone with me this time around and didn't want to get lost as I walked toward the museum, the Academy of Sciences across the way. I entered the side entrance after noticing for the first time how Egyptian looking the statues were at the entrance, and how much these statues resembled those guarding the threshold at the front steps of Studio 750A on 14th Street at Brush Street in West Oakland.

For those who got by the museum over the past few months, there is a brief orientation as one proceeds into the first gallery. It's a typical Hollywood moment and then the doors open into the first gallery (there are 10) where we are instructed to turn on our gallery guides. As the exhibit moved from city to city on its 30 year return tour, the exhibits mirrored one another, very different from 1979 when each museum actually staged the artifacts differently depending on the gallery space itself. In one museum the exhibit was in the basement creating the feeling of a tomb, the golden mask the last item one saw before exiting.

I eagerly awaited the double door's opening, so I could see once again, the boy-king. It was like returning to see an old friend. He hadn't changed much, if at all in the 31 years since he'd been here last. If anything he represented the immortality of blackness, black consciousness.

Somewhat like Tupac Shakur whose early demise occurred just as he was becoming more self-reflective and introspective; King Tutankhamun's early death, which caught everyone off guard--the artifacts represent a quickly assembled crypt. It's amazing, one wonders what the sight might have looked like had he lived. His early death, at the prime of his leadership prevented a similar opportunity for the king to review his strategies, especially those policies which supported unification between Upper and Lower Egypt and the surrounding territories.

When we meet Tut he is more like Tupac as gangster or military heavy--there is no compromise. One couldn't help but notice the various scenes depicted on the items designed to protect and assist the young leader on his journey into the afterlife showed him in battle, as conqueror his foot on the necks of his enemies, not as peacemaker.

Was this youthful bravado something time might alter? Was he pumped up with the ideas of imperialism or the need to establish Egypt as the dominate leader in the region? If so, why? What is the governance back story? Granted I am looking at the young leader through a 21st century lens, post Columbine, Oklahoma, Sept. 11, post-Iraq and Saddam Hussein, post Obama even, but what's with all the scenes with dark-skinned Africans at the foot of Egyptians?

King Tut was the last king and he rose to power at a time when there were non-Egyptians in powerful places of influence. Were his policies the result of miscegenation and assimilation? Tut is clearly a black man as are his wife and father and grandparents.

It's amazing if the brown paper bag-thing was also present in Africa and that the boy king was white. Unlike the other exhibit, which was in LA and Miami a while back, there were no computer generated images of Tut in white skin, the closest in a statute or bust, but this is the material, not the persona whose features suggest non-European heritage.

I'd left my other notebook at home and at $49.00 the catalog was out of my financial reach, so I filled my journal with reflections and notes as I made my way through the crowded galleries. I mean they were full with adults and children, a few of them black. I was pleased to see so many black youth and parents with their children--many of our kids have never seen a black king, this much gold and riches, plus the opportunity to witness such careful attention paid to a black man's death. Even his potential resurrection is instructive as shootings occur in my East Oakland neighborhood regularly and this same black life, Tut's, in certain situations today were he alive, would not be valued at all.

Each day and night my driving route is dependent on safety: shootings on International Blvd., Thursday, March 25; kids upset by the street corner memorials a day later; youth arguing on Seminary and San Leandro Street two weeks ago.

TaSin calls me with news updates or traffic advisories. It would be funny if it wasn't funny--the violence is creeping closer towards my front door where we have had walk-by shootings (this before the crack dealers moved in...and out, an old man their cover. One of them was also killed--he was the nice kid who spoke to me as I was entering or exiting my home).

So to see King Tut, the youngster, born in a town named after the sun god, worshiped by his dad, (Amen Hotep IV who changed his name to Akhenaten, to reflect his belief in Aten or the one god, the sun. At nine in 1333 B.C. when he became king, Tut moved from his dad's town, Amarna, to Thebes and changed his name from Tutankhaten ("honoring Aten" -- the sun god), to Tutankamun ("honoring Amun", the religion of his forebearers. His wife, 13 year old Ankhesenpaaten, the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, also changed her name to reflect a renewal of traditional spiritual practices, to Ankhesenamun. When Tut died ten years later, his successor took the widow as his wife. He died four years after that and there the trail ends regarding Tut's wife.

At nine, the boy-king probably didn't exercise any real power, but who knows, he could have been a precocious youngster whose age didn't stop him from participating in the governing of Upper and Lower Egypt. The best-known pharaoh of ancient Egypt, King Tut has been puzzling scientists ever since his mummy and treasure-packed tomb was discovered in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings by British archaeologist Howard Carter. As the last male in the family, his death in 1325 B.C. at age 19 ended the 18th dynasty probably the greatest of the Egyptian royal families and gave way to military rulers.

I loved the etchings on one of the many statuette boxes of him and his wife in playful or intimate scenes, eating grapes, brushing one another's hair, lounging near each other, chillin' on the throne. It was sad that they lost their two children early in their lives--miscarriages, yet the again respect and love given to their remains--two gold coffins, nestled inside one another.

The boats used as transport and the fact that there were about 30 such vehicles reminded me of the brothers who collect cars in their driveways. Tut's folks had skiffs for the quick jaunts and a houseboat with a huge mast for the overnight missions in the Afterlife which I read wasn't always safe.

Was the Afterlife a series of tests one had to master as he made his way to the Gods? The Book of the Dead with its spells sounds really interesting and the gods in charge of the passage, like Horus, God of Thebes and his sons.

This piece is a work in progress or a draft. I'll update and answer some of my questions as I become better informed. I include here photos from the press package FAM provided. There were no photos of Tut's queen, Ankhesenamun. I included photos of the 1979 opening of the exhibit which I attended, but the line was around the museum and my husband (at the time) didn't want to wait to see the exhibit. I also included photos of the Valley of the Kings where the tomb was found, Howard Carter the archeologist who found the tomb and the monuments to the king, along with his funeral mask and coffins, which are not a part of the exhibit. 31 years ago the gold mask was a part of the touring exhibit, not any longer, which is kind of disappointing after a few hours in the various galleries to come to the end and just have a computer generated images of the compartments that housed King Tut's remains. His grandmother's golden coffin and her funeral mask, along with his unborn children's coffin are on display, but not the rock star himself. You have to go to Eqypt to see this.

I also included a photo of President Anwar Sadat with Cyril Magnin.

I noticed in the plates that a few of the larger shrines said Metropolitan Museum. If what I read is correct, these items have never left Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum's photographer was present when the items were discovered.

Another ethical question is pilfering the tomb of a renown statesman. How many European kings and queens are sent around the world to lie in state in a variety of museums? King Tut's grandmother and unborn children... are on display.

What happened to letting the dead rest in peace? Again, I don't see the remains of any Europeans circling the globe, yet so many Africans have been on display in museums both alive and dead, the more famous Saartjie Baartman was a living installation in the British Museum and Ota Benga at the New York Zoo. Later Baartman's genitalia were pickled.

Marilyn Nelson's book, "Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem," looks at the story of an anonymous skeleton hanging in the Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut for over 200 years, until recently, as in 1996 when questioned as to its origin and it is found that the bones belong to an enslaved man named Fortune owned by the local doctor. He died at the age of 60 in 1798 and the doctor boiled his skin off the bones and used his skeleton to inform his medical practice, as it did that of his children who also began doctors. This African man's remains remain on view.

So once again the question is, why are Africans or black people disrespected even in death? Why is there a different standard applied to our dead that is not applied to others? Why are black bodies even in death public property?

Did you know that the word for mirror and life--ankh are the same? The image here is of a mirror case, there are two parts. Life is a mirror of our soul. Who we are is reflected in what we do or at least in what we intend to do--this is me talking. I believe that one's intentions count, even the unsuccessful ones.

The museum states on its website that its "goal with this exhibition is to present the beauty, artistry and rarity of the 130 objects from Tut’s tomb and the tombs of his royal ancestors and to share with visitors a comprehensive and educational look at life during the 18th Dynasty, Egypt’s Golden Age. Since it is likely that these objects will not travel again once the new museum in Giza opens, this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to see these wonderful artifacts in person" unless one travels to Egypt which I certainly hope to in the near future.


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