Literally every ancient Egyptian artifact one sees, today, is defaced. Naturally, after several thousand years, sculptures and monuments left to the elements, more often than not, in the open desert, should deteriorate. But have you ever bothered to ask the simple question why the wear and tear of these ancient statues, like the iconic sphinxes of Giza, among others, seem to concentrate only on their noses?
Several historians and Egyptologists have attempted to explain this abnormality by attributing it to causes, such as religious and cultural vandalism and the elements, among others. However, the consistency in pattern of defacement of these artifacts constantly raises the question: why mostly the noses?
For instance, this is one question curator, Edward Bleiberg, who oversees the museum’s vast holdings of Egyptian, Classical and ancient and Near Eastern art, always got from visitors to the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian art galleries.
The simple question launched Bleiberg into an extensive enquiry and his research is now the basis of an exhibition, ‘Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt’, which involves a selection of objects from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, travelling to the Pulitzer Art Foundation.
Under the co-direction of the Museum’s associate curator, Stephanie Weissberg, the exhibition pairs damaged statues and reliefs dating from the 25th century BC to the 1st century, with their still intact counterparts.
Indeed, the poignant display put up by Bleiberg and his team points to political and religious functions of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Citing motivations, including political, religious, criminal and personal, Bleiberg believes that, “The consistency of the patterns where damage is found in the sculpture suggests that it’s purposeful.”
The religious aspect was one reason why a sculpture’s nose was damaged. In Egyptian state religion, statues and relief works were not just mere artworks, (indeed, there was no word for ‘art’ in ancient Egyptian culture and the artifacts were regarded more as instruments) they were “a meeting point between the supernatural and this world”, according to Bleiberg and these artifacts are supposed to be inhabited by the spirits of the deities or the ancestors for whom they were made, when “revivified” by certain rituals.
Thus, by depriving the sculptures and artifacts of their noses (denying them of the breath of life, as when those ancestors were still alive, they were more or less ‘killed’ and such acts of iconoclasm by vandals of such works were actually calculated to disrupt their power.
Well, those explanations do not quite seem to capture the whole story, as these recurring damages, as already firmly established, were purposeful, as there seems to be parts of those past theories that border on disinformation. Indeed, it would seem, from comparative analysis, that many, if not most of those damages, were politically motivated, chiefly by a desire to obliterate great Black contributions to civilisation.
Why would the elements single out the noses of sculptures, in particular, you may want to ask again? And manage to always chip away at such sculptures made of such hard media as granite and basalt? Then, if one assumes that it is indeed the elements, what was then the case with two-dimensional artworks and reliefs that also lost their noses?
Indeed, the reason is obvious, as the above, rare, early photograph of Egyptian monuments, before Europeans allegedly shot their noses off, shows. As seen from the picture, the noses of the sculptures are distinctly African noses, capturing the very features of those that actually made them.
There have, of course, been attempts, over the centuries, to ‘whiten’ the ancient Egyptian dynasties and completely obliterate Black contributions to modern civilisation but, as is well known and bolstered by research findings, ancient Egypt, the bastion of modern civilisation was, indeed, a Black African civilisation that flourished for thousands of years, before the time of Christ (BC).
Though there had been invasions of Egypt in the past, notably, by the Romans, among others, the big interruption came in 639-642 AD, with the Arab, or Ummayad invasion of Egypt and the rest of North Africa and the genocide that followed, almost wiping out the original, Black populations, the original natives of the land of the pharaohs and the usurpation of their inheritances.
Photos: Sphinx with damaged nose (courtesy, hompi.sogang.ac.kr); defaced relief work (courtesy, Brooklyn Museum); Rare early photo of sphinx (courtesy, African Heritage Sites).
The Igbo Mask Of Mgbedike
In the movie The Black Panther, Erik Killmonger wore a very distinctive mask that he had taken from the British Museum.
Additionally, Killmonger uttered the most famous words of the movie when he said, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships because they knew that death was better than bondage”.
There is a deep connection between those words and the mask that Killmonger wore.
The mask of Killmonger is from the Igbo people who are from Southern Nigeria.
The mask of the Igbo people are known as Mgbedike mask and they are used for ceremonial purposes.
In May of 1803, a significant event took place, famously known as the ‘Igbo Landing’.
After crossing the Middle Passage, a slave ship arrived in Georgia with a cargo of slaves. Seventy-five of those people were Igbo and they were sold for roughly $100 each.
They were then transferred to another ship to be moved to their destination.
Once upon the new ship, the Igbo people rebelled. During the rebellion, the Igbo people killed their captors and took control of the ship.
With no way of returning home and facing the likelihood of being recaptured into slavery, those Igbo people agreed to commit suicide…together.
They all jumped into the ocean and drowned.
This is what Killmonger was referring to when he said, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships because they knew that death was better than bondage.”
Culled from Daily Time TV.
Photo of Mgbedike Mask, courtesy of the British Museum.