Greater than 2,000 years after its collapse, historical Egyptian civilisation “continues to fascinate us”, stated Aimee Dawson in The Artwork Newspaper.
But a lot of what we perceive about this misplaced world and its “pharaohs, hidden treasures and unsolved mysteries” is broad of the mark; certainly, as a brand new exhibition at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre argues, our imaginative and prescient of historical Egypt is basically a fantasy created by a selected sort of “Western colonial mindset” and propagated by successive waves of superpowers, from the Romans to the British to the movie studios of the USA.
Marking the centenary of the archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the present makes an attempt to “untangle” the methods wherein Egypt’s picture has been formed by the West: from sculpture and portray to style and structure, outsiders have raided and exploited this most fruitful supply of historic inspiration.
The exhibition brings collectively greater than 200 objects, from historical artefacts to traditional nineteenth century Orientalist work, to works by up to date Egyptian artists that discover the aesthetic clichés surrounding their nation.There’s no scarcity of “gems” right here, stated Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. Alas, they’ve been cobbled collectively within the service of a thesis which lumps 2,000 years of fascination with Egypt “into one unbroken wall of Western prejudice”.
Western racism in the direction of Egypt started, the present argues, with the Roman defeat of Cleopatra, and nonetheless persists right now. There are some lurid expressions of Egyptomania on show right here, definitely, corresponding to Edwin Lengthy’s “ridiculous” Victorian portray of an historical Egyptian harem. But many reveals kick towards that simplistic thesis.
A marvellous depiction of the emperor Diocletian dressed as a pharaoh is definitely an occasion of the 2 “cultures interacting”. Likewise, Sir John Soane’s “intoxicated” research of Egyptian structure, from the early nineteenth century, present why he noticed it as superior to European classicism. “This exhibition needs us to cease our love affair with this misplaced world however it might’t.” It’s “a blockbuster having a breakdown”.
Effectively, the thought is to light up the “fantasy” of historical Egypt, stated Alastair Sooke in The Day by day Telegraph. So there’s a Joshua Reynolds portrait of the 18th century courtesan Kitty Fisher dressed up as Cleopatra subsequent to a nonetheless of Elizabeth Taylor taking part in the identical character within the 1963 Hollywood epic. Neither tells us a lot about Cleopatra herself, however each converse volumes about her “afterlife as a sybaritic temptress”.
Even so, there’s an unappealing air of sanctimony to the proceedings: many depictions of historical Egypt do certainly “mirror vexed colonial values”, however to be “sniffy” about this whereas making an attempt to entertain an viewers with the identical materials appears “hypocritical”. “Partaking” as it’s, this can be a missed alternative.
Sainsbury’s Centre, Norwich. Till 1 January 2023