Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reflecting on the Reflection on King Tut

Closing night was a Community Evening at the Museum, which meant the hours were extended to 9:00 PM, I believe, and included art activities like making Tut crowns, an Egyptian play with live music and an open quilting studio, (connected to the Amish Quilt Exhibit) plus a lecture. There was a no host bar and the cafe was open as well. All these activities were included in the admission. It was a great farewell party for the king.

I kind of stumbled into the extended hours after I emerged from the Tut exhibit 4-5 hours after I'd entered at 2:30 PM.

Unlike the exhibit with Queen Hatshepsut which allowed scholars outside the museum community to lead tours, Tut did not and I really miss the opportunity to have had Professor Manu Ampin's insight on the king and this period in African history.

Certainly the de Young has learned from the work of scholar and artist Fred Wilson about museum spaces and how they artificially manipulate realities to create new ones, often attached to power. King Tut's remains, though contextualized within the landscape of discovery, were not centered in ritual. Often on the many plates mention was made of how an object was used, but what did it mean that the object was in San Francisco now, to King Tut's eternal life?

How long does it take a spirit to travel through the Afterlife to its final destination? I certainly don't know and I'm pretty certain the bling got in the way of such considerations. I'm reflecting the tomb's initial discovery.

When the de Young opened its doors to the new facility there was ritual--in the African galleries practitioners were invited to bless the space. I remember, the procession began with a lecture and then continued up the stairs to the galleries. I left the museum that evening at midnight, spent the night in San Francisco and then returned the next day.

I remember wondering why so many non-Africans were involved in the ceremony and being told by someone in the procession that race didn't matter. It might not matter to them, but if something is African I want to see indigenous Africans or black people.

I think King Tut deserved something similar. Spirit is real. It's surprising that the Museum of the African Disapora wasn't a satellite for any Tut-related events or activities or even the African American Art and Culture Complex or the Bayview Opera House. I wonder who is on the museum's advisory committee and how connected are they to the constituency that is black San Francisco?

In the future when the museum brings in Pan African exhibits community should insist that we have a say in its presentation. There was a big corporate sponsor who as money often does, shaped input; however, the part of the deal that was public funds, that is, tax dollars --the people, should have been able to override its objections.

When one looks at presenting organizations--I'm speaking of visual art here, but it includes performance art as well, Velma's Place is one of the only black clubs left in the Bay Area and The Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center and the Bayview Opera House are two of the only places for both visual and performance art consistently connected to black culture.

The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) looks black, but the mission is so watered down inclusive of any ethnic opportunist who chooses blackness like a garment needing dusting off, that black people--the ones without a choice (if they care to defect), are not the target audience, even those who can afford the admission. I heard a sad story of a family who came into the museum opening week of the new exhibit (March 20, 2010) to buy something from the gift shop. When the father asked the admission price--$10 adults, $5 students and seniors, as he looked at his wife and two kids and clearly couldn't afford it, then asked if there were a family price, he was told no.

The door keeper told him no, when all day long she'd been admitting white patrons from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) whose members received free admission to MoAD that day.

How many black people have subscriptions to SFMOMA?


The woman could have given the family a pass and no one would have been the wiser, but more importantly it would have been a great opportunity to develop patrons for the venue. I wonder if the dad regretted his purchase, since he couldn't afford the museum. His kids would have loved it. There were art activities --kids were making jewelry in the colors of the orishas and in the community room there were Yoruba creation stories being told. This is the day that Dowoti Desir gave a tour of the gallery speaking about her altars in: Dancing on the Hips of Gede.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, just across the street, does more to connect the dots between Africa and its children in the Diaspora than MoAD and its outreach is to people like you and me.

I was listening to some of the pod-casts on the de Young Museum website on "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs about how the exhibit came to San Francisco in the first place. One of the person's responsible is interviewed and he mentions the Egyptian government asked how much money could they expect from the tour. The museum representative said $1 million dollars and the tour actually raised something like $8 million. I wonder how much was raised this time? What was interesting was Egypt's request that the museums sell tickets 30 years ago, when some museums didn't charge admission at all. I think all the museums in Washington D.C. are still free. The money was to be made from souvenirs in 1979, this time, tickets and souvenirs --at least here in San Francisco.

Related Exhibits
There is a mummy on display at the Palace of the Legion of Honor through October 31, 2010, in the exhibit: Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine. Visit

Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine explores the modern scientific examination of mummies providing new insights into the conditions under which the Egyptians lived, bringing us closer to understanding who they were. The exhibition is a homecoming celebration marking the return of Irethorrou, the Fine Arts Museums’ mummy who has been on loan since 1944. CT-scans done by scientists at Stanford Medical School shed light on Irethorrou’s physical attributes and cause of death. The scans provide depth and scientific background to the exhibition and contribute to a three-dimensional “fly through” of the mummy and a forensic reconstruction of his head. The exhibition also includes a variety of ancient artifacts that date from approximately 664–525 B.C., the Late Period from the 26th Saite Dynasty.


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