Thursday, July 29, 2010

Exhibition review: Cleopatra

Obit (Julia M. Klein)

A better than usual review of the Cleopatra exhibition in Philadelphia. Warning, though - she couldn't resist an Indiana Jones reference!

The Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, whose adventurous zeal evokes Indiana Jones, is digging for artifacts and the tombs of both Antony and Cleopatra amid the ruins of the temple of Taposiris Magna, about 30 miles west of Alexandria. An equally exuberant French archaeologist, Franck Goddio, has spent nearly two decades planning and leading underwater expeditions off the Egyptian coast. There he has uncovered the sunken remains of ancient Alexandria and the lost cities of Heracleion, a religious center, and Canopus, a site of both religious pilgrimage and erotic revelry.

These discoveries form the core of an over-hyped but still intriguing exhibition titled, “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” The traveling show, premiering at Philadelphia ’s Franklin Institute through Jan. 2, 2011 , has been organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, with cooperation from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology.

Despite the title, and a hokey audio tour that purports to be narrated by Cleopatra herself, few artifacts in the show can be linked definitively to the queen. The most notable (found near Cairo, in 1904) is probably an ancient scrap of papyrus, describing a tax break for a friend of Mark Antony’s. A scrawled command in Greek – “Make it happen” – is believed by scholars to be in Cleopatra’s own hand.

Most of the 150 or so other artifacts have a murkier provenance, dating to sometime in the Ptolemaic period (304-30 B.C.), or to the Roman period that followed.

Obit is a curious website as a whole: "Death gives life its immediacy. Because we know it will end, we savor and value life all the more. Obit examines life through the lens of death. Whether it’s the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea, life’s constant change presents an opportunity for examination, discussion and even celebration. By examining the transformations we face, we can understand how the past influences our time and our future. Obit aims to offer a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition that you will find nowhere else." Interesting idea.

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