Kemet and the Black Power Movement

Sphinx_Giza

Kemet and the Black Power Movement

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.

 

Homage to Malcom Acrylic paint on canvas 1970
Homage to Malcom. Acrylic paint on canvas 1970 by Jack Whitten

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.

Homage to Malcom
Detail of Homage to Malcom, Acrylic paint on canvas 1970.

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.

combs_from_kemet_combs_eh_blackfist_ancient_comb
The iconic ‘fist’ comb from the 1970s and a 5500 year old comb from Abydos Egypt. Taken at the origins of the afro comb exhibition. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 2013

Reference

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.

7 thoughts on “Kemet and the Black Power Movement”

  1. Can I ask what is the scene from above on the top of the page: you know, the one with the people facing right, carrying gifts to someplace?
    Also, could you share more photos of the temple of Ra and Horakhty in Nubia if you have them? My armchair interntional travel through time and space seems to be infinitesimally limiting in the observation of this most interesting temple? It would be great to see Rameses II and Thutmose (Menkheperre?) I

    1. I mean III (sorry, I have forgotten their Horus names).

      Great work btw, wish there was more of your awesome content and erudition to see!

    1. Your work is so appreciated. Keep up the great work. Hopefully your lectures wind up on Youtube so that we can all be blessed by them.

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