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Conserving Coptic Heritage: A Historic Egyptian-American Partnership
Lecture took place on June 3rd, 2020 - Presented by Dr. Elizabeth Bolman
An historic partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Coptic Orthodox Church has brought to life three spectacular Coptic churches and the earliest painted Christian tomb in Egypt. At the start, these monuments were only known within Egypt and to a small group of Coptologists (specialists in the history of the Copts). Now, all four are shining examples of the Christian tradition of creating wall paintings featuring holy figures, for devotional purposes.
The earliest, the Tomb of St. Shenoute at the White Monastery, dates to the middle of the fifth century C.E. Monks at the Red Monastery built a magnificent painted church in the late fifth century, and repainted it two more times in quick succession. Over thirty patrons paid to have a major program of wall paintings created in the Old Church at the Monastery of St. Antony, in the early thirteenth century. The tradition of painting large-scale religious images on the walls of churches in Egypt died out in or shortly after the fourteenth century. Monks in the Monastery of St. Paul revived it in the early eighteenth century, using for some of their inspiration the thirteenth-century paintings in the nearby Monastery of St. Antony. Major wall painting conservation and publication projects at these four sites revealed treasures that had not been seen for centuries. Previously ignored by scholars of the larger medieval world, these monuments and their painted interiors are now seen as making major contributions to the corpus of medieval art. The Egyptian/USAID/ARCE partnership has caused a fundamental rethinking of the role of Egypt in the creation of eastern Mediterranean visual culture, and has added four jewels to world heritage.
The Tomb Chapel of Menna (TT 69): The Art, Culture, and Science of Painting in an Egyptian tomb
Lecture took place on July 15th, 2020 - Presented by Dr. Melinda Hartwig
The tomb chapel of Menna (TT 69), is considered to be one of the most beautiful and complex painted tombs from ancient Egypt. From 2007-2009, an international group of conservators, Egyptologists, scientists, and digital specialists brought the tomb chapel back to its former glory, using cutting-edge non-invasive methods. This talk will focus on the results which relay important information about the tomb owner and the time in which he lived as well as artistic methods and status materials in the ancient world. The resulting book, edited by Melinda Hartwig, volume 5 of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Conservation Series (Cairo & New York: American University in Cairo Press) is about to undergo its second printing. The project was directed by Hartwig and administered by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) as part of its Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Project (EAC). The project was funded by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), sponsored by Georgia State University (GSU), and carried out in collaboration with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Conservation is Research: Recent findings from Megawra's Athar Lina Conservation Program
Lecture took place on August 19th, 2020 - Presented by Dr. May al-Ibrashy
Since 2013, Megawra-BEC's Athar Lina Initiative has conserved the domes of Shajar al-Durr, Sayyida Ruqayya, al-Ja'fari and 'Atika and is currently working on the conservation of al-Imam al-Shafi'i Mausoleum and al-Shurafa Shrine, all in Historic Cairo's al-Khalifa District. The conservation process often results in discoveries and findings. Some are the result of deliberate investigation. Others are pure luck. They range from a small floral detail revealed after modern paint is removed, to inscriptions uncovered or deciphered for the first time to an entire shrine unearthed under an existing one. The challenge is always to find the time and mindset to do the necessary exploration and research while dealing with the day-to-day demands of a conservation site.
The Goddess Isis and the Kingdom of Meroe
Lecture took place on August 30th, 2020 - Presented by Dr. Solange Ashby
Discussions of the widespread appeal of the cult of Isis in antiquity often omit any mention of the Nubian priests who served the rulers of the Kingdom of Meroe (located south of Egypt in the Sudan) and the royal donations of gold that they delivered to the temple of Isis at Philae, located at Egypt’s border with Nubia. Those funds were essential to the survival of the temple of Philae, allowing it to remain in active use for centuries after other temples had been abandoned in Egypt. I will describe the rites performed by the Nubian priests and their participation in a tradition of Nubian pilgrimage to this site that spanned one thousand years. As a Black Egyptologist it is important to me to investigate the southern connections that are evident in the ancient religious practices of Egypt. Much work remains to be done to highlight these connections.
Karaites in Egypt: The Preservation of Jewish-Egyptian Heritage
Lecture took place on September 13th, 2020- Presented by:
Jonathan R. Cohen, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt
Magda Haroun, Head of the Egyptian-Jewish Community
Eli Eltachan, President of Universal Karaites
Dr. Yoram Meital, Professor of Middle East Studies, Ben-Gurion University
Dr. Louise Bertini, Executive Director, American Research Center in Egypt
The Jewish Cemetery of Basatin is believe to be the second oldest Jewish Cemetery in the world, with an original foundation deed dating to the 9th century. At the time, the land provided for the cemetery consisted of 147 acres and was located beyond the boundaries of the Tulunid capital of Egypt. In modern times the cemetery became fragmented into disconnected plots of land amounting to about 27 acres. The cemetery was previously divided into designated areas for the Rabbanite and Karaite Jews. However, the only remaining part of the Karaite graveyard is a small private plot belonging to the Leishaa and Menasha families. Egyptian Jews of all backgrounds have been buried in the site since its founding and continue to be despite their dwindling numbers and the advanced state of neglect of the cemetery. The Egyptian Jewish community included important historical figures such as the Rabbi Haim Capusi (whose eponymous synagogue still stands in Cairo's former Jewish neighborhood), along representatives of the notable Jewish families of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who often commissioned significant pieces of architecture to commemorate their lives such as Moise Cattaui Pasha.
The Altered State of Religion Sekhmet and Ritual Revelries in the Reign of Amenhotep III
Lecture took place on September 30th, 2020 - Presented by Dr. Betsy Bryan
The lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet was one of a number of Egyptian goddesses who controlled the activities of the cosmos as agents of the sun god. They supervised the inundation, the movement of the moon, the stars, and planets, and could be responsible for both beneficial conditions and natural disasters such as famine, flood, and plague. These goddesses, often associated with the cobra uraei seen on the king’s brow, were protective of Ra’s creations and punished those who rebelled against the sun god’s order. Sekhmet was an alter ego for a number of the uraeus goddesses, and more than one major Egyptian myth addressing the importance of a stabilized cosmos refers to her and the need to propitiate her. The so-called Drunkenness Festivals were among the rituals that involved the lioness goddesses and were celebrated at a significant number of temples and sites throughout Egypt from early times. This lecture will focus on the goddess Sekhmet and her ritual celebrations in the reign of Amenhotep III for whom many hundreds of seated and standing stone statues of that goddess were sculpted and placed in the king’s funerary temple at Kom el Hettan and at the Mut Temple south of Karnak. How this king and his priests incorporated the Sekhmet cultic revelries in combination with the enormous production of statuary will be considered, along with the ultimate types of celebration and their performative impact.
Maurice Nahman: Antiquities Collector, Dealer, and Authority
Lecture took place on October 18th, 2020 - Presented by Iman R. Abdulfattah
The late 19th-early 20th century saw a proliferation of collectors and museums acquiring objects from the Middle East. What was being collected by these individuals and institutions was largely shaped by the connoisseurship of a well-connected network of dealers in possession of vast assemblages of antiquities. One such figure was Maurice Nahman (1868-1948). He operated in the Downtown area of Cairo starting in 1890, and his fingerprints are all over Egyptian antiquities sales to the top museums in Europe and the U.S. While Nahman is mostly recognized as the foremost dealer of ancient Egyptian artifacts, he similarly effected an interest in later periods of Egyptian history. He sold Coptic and Islamic objects of the highest quality to museums that had yet to establish independent departments dedicated to these fields, and helped shape public and private perceptions of a nascent discipline. The objective of this talk is to reconstruct his biography and professional trajectory through the lens of his relations with art historians, curators, collectors and buyers, with focus on post-pharaonic material.
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The Curse of the Black Eggplant: Reconstructing Occult Economies in Late Ottoman Egypt
Lecture took place on October 31st, 2020 - Presented by Taylor M. Moore
Taylor M. Moore uses the “amulet tale” of the black eggplant as a frame to reveal the occult economies that were a robust—if not integral—part of Egypt’s economic market in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She reconstructs these rich constellations of occult workers and occult objects by placing the women practitioners and their customers who consumed these objects at their center. First, she utilizes Julia Elyachar’s work on the “folkness” of the economy to show that the physical and the conceptual marketplace of the Egyptian economy was always occult in its nature. She then departs from scholarship on the male-dominated histories of Egyptian capitalism and political economy to demonstrate that women occult workers—largely working-class women, formerly enslaved Africans, and Upper Egyptian migrants—were a force in the physical marketplace.
Mamluks Made Modern: When Design Meets History
Lecture took place on November 29th , 2020 - Presented by Azza Fahmy and Omniya Abdel Barr
In this talk Azza Fahmy and Omniya Abdel Barr discussed their collaboration in giving Mamluk architecture a new dimension and glamour. They discussed their design process and how they married history with jewellery. To celebrate the Mamluks and their legacy, Azza Fahmy designed her 2019 jewellery collection in the Mamluk style, as an homage to this rich heritage.
The Mamluks ruled over Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, building a multitude of monuments with unabashed vigour through all crises, especially in their capital. Many of the arts and crafts were the pride of Cairo's markets. Today, this cultural heritage represents an integral part of Cairo's living memory.
From Slave to Demon: Barya in the Ethiopian Prayer Scrolls: Lecture 1 of the Africa Interconnected Series
Lecture took place on December 12th, 2020 - Presented by Solange Ashby
In Ethiopia today, nominally Christian prayer scrolls are worn as a form of protection against diseases believed to be the result from negative actions of demons. The scrolls are written in the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.
This lecture will focus on one particular type of demon called Barya, which is aid to cause epilepsy. This term is also a racist slur used for members of a specific ethnic group who call themselves Nara. The Nara reside along the western border of Ethiopia and Eritrea and into eastern Sudan. Their people were heavily raided for slaves by Ethiopia's dominant ethnic group, the Amhara. It is embedded in a 20th century prayer scroll created for a young woman, among the ritual protection meant to safeguard against illness and misfortune, is an "execration text" against several kings, whom I suggest were enemy rulers of the Ethiopian Aksumite empire in the fourth century CE.
Panel Discussion: "Anxieties about Race in Egyptology and Egyptomania, 1890-1960"
Lecture took place on January 16th, 2021 - Presented by Donald Reid, Salima Ikram, Vanessa Davies, Fayza Haikal, Eve M. Troutt Powell, & Annissa Malvoisin
Despite ideals of scientific and scholarly objectivity, both Egyptologists and non-specialists have often projected their own racial anxieties back into ancient Egypt. Recurrent attempts to prove that the ancient Egyptians were white or Black, for example, reveal more about modern societies than about ancient Egypt. The panel will discuss the history of how such debates have played out among modern Western and Egyptian scholars, artists, and writers, and how interpretations of ancient Egypt are intertwined with personal beliefs and prejudices.
New Perspectives on Ancient Nubia at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Lecture 2 of the Africa Interconnected Series
Lecture took place on January 23rd, 2021 - Presented by Dr. Denise Doxey
The last thirty years of excavation in southern Egypt and especially Sudan has allowed the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to house the largest collection of ancient Nubian art outside Khartoum. The Nubians produced magnificent and powerful art for thousands of years. In Boston, Egyptian art has upstaged that of Nubia for a century. One reason is that for centuries Nubia left no written records, leaving its story to be told by others-first by their rivals and sometimes enemies, the Egyptians. Early 20th century archaeologists, including the MFA's own George Reisner, brought preconceived notions and prejudices to their interpretations of African cultures, further obscuring Nubia's grandeur. Preparations for a major exhibition of Nubian art in 2019 led the MFA to reconsider Nubia in light of new information, new interpretations, and voices from outside the museum world. This talk will discuss the planning of the exhibition and lessons learned from the planning.
Does the Past Have a Future? The Work of the Theban Mapping Project
Lecture took place on January 30th, 2021- Presented by Dr. Kent Weeks
The Theban Mapping Project (TMP) began work in 1979. Its goal was to prepare a comprehensive map of the Theban Necropolis, starting with the Valley of the Kings, and to make detailed plans of its archaeological remains. It was the first project of its kind to work in Egypt. In 1989, when the TMP discovered that KV 5 was in fact a family mausoleum for multiple sons of Rameses II and the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings, it made headlines around the world. The TMP established a website, KV5.com, to provide reports on its work for a fascinated public quickly becoming one of the most visited sites on the internet. KV5.com was used as a research tool by scholars and as an introduction to Egyptology by students of all ages. It received over one million hits monthly until it crashed in 2010 and could not be restored. Today, thanks to ARCE, the website is back up, and can again provide up to date information on Thebes and its monuments for a wide audience.
Egyptian Rule and Canaanite Resistance as Seen from Jaffa
In Honor of Norma Kershaw
Lecture took place on February 4th, 2021- Presented by Dr. Aaron A. Burke
The excavations of the Egyptian New Kingdom fortress in Jaffa, on the southern side of Tel Aviv were undertaken from 1956 to 2014. It was the only Egyptian fortress excavated in Canaan. Its archaeological record, particularly the evidence from several dramatic destructions, provides a unique perspective on Egyptian rule and local resistance to it from ca. 1460 to 1125 B.C. The archaeological evidence, taken together with textual sources, yields a picture of Canaanite resistance to the Egyptian military presence in Jaffa. This originated in centers located throughout the coastal plain and persisted for several centuries. This talk is drawn from excavations directed by the author and undertaken by the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project between 2011 and 2014.
"Backwater Puritans?" Racism, Egyptological Stereotypes, and the Intersection of Local and International at Kushite Tombos
Lecture took place on March 20th, 2021- Presented by Professor Stuart Tyson Smith
Egyptological and more popular perceptions of Nubia and the Kushite Dynasty (c. 747- 654 BCE) have framed Kush as a periphery to civilized Egypt, unsophisticated interlopers in Egypt and the broader Mediterranean world during the first millennium. Depictions of Nubians from earlier periods of Egyptian history, like Tutankhamen's painted box, reinforced these ideas of Nubian inferiority compared to Egypt and the Near East. But to what extent was Nubia a "backwater" to Egypt? For the Persians, depictions of Nubians and other foreigners presenting gifts at Persepolis represent the diversity of the empire paying homage to the Persian king as an all-lord. The Kushite civilization that flourished for a thousand years was not an imperfect imitation of ancient Egypt, as some Egyptologists have asserted. Instead, features taken from Egypt and the Mediterranean world were adapted and thoroughly integrated with local practices and belief systems.
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Zikra: Remembering 'Abd al-Halim Hafiz
Lecture took place on March 27, 2021- Presented by Dr. Nicholas Mangialardi and performance by Ahmed Harfoush and the Harfoush Jazz Band
By the end of his career, 'Abd al-Halim Hafiz was the most popular singer in Egypt. As a pop celebrity, he shaped the everyday lives of Egyptians, from the way they dressed and styled their hair to where they spent their wedding night. Despite his superstar status, many said that Halim "seemed familiar, like a relative or friend, one of your family members." Among his contemporaries, no other singer developed such an intimate relationship with the Egyptian people, which made the news of his premature passing more shocking. As his funeral possession wound its way through the streets of Cairo in the spring of 1977, an estimated one million mourners came out to bid farewell to their "beloved son of Egypt."
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The Arts of Ancient Meroe: Reassessing an Ancient African Visual Culture
Lecture took place on April 3rd, 2021- Presented by Dr. Janice Yellin
The visual culture of Meroe encompasses a rich body of sculpture, as well as decorated pyramid chapels, temples, ritual objects, jewelry, ceramics, and faience and gold plaques. The art of Meroe is complex. Egyptian and classical elements, alongside indigenous features and tastes, are visible in much but not all of its art. The presence of these foreign features has allowed an outdated and unsupported Egyptocentric viewpoint to shape much of the discourse about Meroitic visual culture. Constructs that present Napatan and Meroitic Period arts as imitative and derivative of Egyptian art and, to a lesser extent, classical art have obscured the vibrant Kushite nature of their visual arts, as well as the very independent manner in which Kushite artists use and understand foreign features, particularly Egyptian ones. This presentation explores the essential Kushite nature of ancient Meroitic art demonstrating how an Egyptocentric approach has, as in other areas of Kushite Studies, distorted our understanding of it.
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