A few people have commented on the photograph that I recently uploaded for the blog on the homepage and asked what it represents. It comes from a procession, which forms part of the festival scenes of Ramesses (III) Usermaatre-meryamun at his funerary temple on the West Bank, which is now best known as Medinat Habu. This is actually my favourite temple from Kemet, both for the decorations and because it also contains the chapels of the God’s Wives of Amun.
The pigment on the walls is extremely well preserved when compared to most other temples, and presents an idea of how colourful the temples of ancient Kemet once were. It also gives a clear indication of the complexion of the people.
The men features in the relief are royal attendants, in the section that I chose for the blog (shown above) they appear to be carrying the parts of a staircase- you can see the steps that are carried by the men in the middle section. This is a reference to the festival that we see depicted: The Festival of the Staircase. It was on his staircase that the god Min was presented with the first ears of corn from the harvest by the King.
To the right of the first scene is the scene above, which shows the King being carried as part of a procession; the colours used for the this scene were identical to those of the previous section, but as you can see from when I took this photograph, the sunlight falls directly on the wall and has almost erased the pigment.
Min was a fertility god, initially of animals but later of vegetation. He is often depicted with lettuce, which was believed to be an aphrodisiac by the people of Kemet. The final section of the procession (above) shows the god standing on a raised area. The procession carrying the King can just be seen to the left, as if walking at the side of the god’s platform ready to present him with offerings at the front. You can just about see their heads and the standards that they are carrying.
October is Black History Month in the UK and Kemet remains a popular subject choice when I am asked to present lectures. In fact this year I will presenting 4 lectures on Kush.
Kemet has inspired many people of African heritage, with many from the Diaspora making a cultural journey the Giza plateau; this included Malcom X during his 1964 trip to Africa.
Six years later the artist Jack Whitten produced an extraordinary piece of art entitled Homage to Malcom (above). The piece was recently displayed in the exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at the Tate Modern in London. The connection to Kemet was immediately apparent but on closer inspection of the piece and the accompanying information I learned that the surface was created by using an afro comb over the painted surface. Thus drawing on another shared history between African and its Diaspora of the comb.
Since the turn of the 20th century eminent African American scholars, artists and activists had made the connection between Kemet and the rest of the African continent, including the artist and print maker Charles C. Dawson and the scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Some people may be surprised to hear that Du Bois was in direct contact with early Egyptologist W.M.F.Petrie. Egyptologist Dr Vanessa Davies has been researching communications between the two; her early findings were reported here in a lecture and are well worth exploring and a good reminder of the long history of African American activism, which (of course) reaches back to when the first people were forcibly removed from their home land.
It’s just a pity that in the 21st century museums are still neglecting to even reference the connections between Kemet, African and people of African descent. In 2017 there should not still be a need to have Black History ‘Month’. African cultural heritage should be available to everyone all of the year round. Nor should the connection between Kemet and other African cultures be restricted to special exhibitions or projects; it should be made automatically and as a matter of course.
Notes on Black Abstraction Mark Godfrey in Soul of a Nation. Art in then Age of Black Power edited by M. Godfrey and Z. Whitley 2017.