Monday, December 12, 2016

UPDATE: MUMMIES EXHIBITION REPORT. A delight, yet the modern guilt of the zoo hangs around today’s exhibitionism

The moral dilemma - and delight - of mummies

The Egyptians called their wrapped and mummified dead ‘The Helpless Ones.’

Carry that thought with you as you step with me into the darkness of an exhibition area, following dim passages like a tomb.

A pre-emptive video greets you as you stand in the company of fellow visitors.

The new Egyptian Mummies Exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is all about science and real lives, you are informed. Modern, non-invasive CT technology does not disturb the sanctity of the dead.

We've come a long way from this
Just a twist of the knob on a display shows what lies beneath.

And yet...

A little while later, as I gaze down at the ancient Egyptian chantress Tamut, (and wonder if I should pry into her personal medical scans, available on a display) I can’t help feeling a twinge of guilt.

Is the modern technology of CT medical imaging, like Superman’s X-ray vision, any less invasive and voyeuristic than ripping off a lady’s clothing to see what’s underneath?

The mummies behind the glass are as helpless as animals behind bars.

Of course we love to peek at mummies. Just as we do at the magical creatures inside zoo enclosures. Both are wildly popular.

Yet both are relics of a grand age of imperialism over nature, history and culture.

Today, zoos and museums (with mummies) are both in the business of preservation. 

Themselves included.

The current is running against them. Which is a shame, because I like anything that popularises ancient Egypt (and that showcases our precious wildlife).

In fact, I feel a little churlish even thinking these thoughts because the latest exhibition is very very good and yes, quite sensitively handled.

It is also highly atmospheric.

The Egyptian authorities have tended to criticise the British Museum in the past for its choice of moody lighting in exhibitions, but I’m all for mystery. Let's avoid the fairground.

So go see it - and enjoy some guilty pleasure. 

There are lots of wonderful things to see besides the mummies.

'Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives' runs until 25th April, 2017

It's not just the mummies that revivify ancient lives for the beholder, but also little gems like these