Nubia Forever

Pendant with a Head of Hathor, gold and rock crystal, 743–712 BC. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo (c) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Getty Villa has been featuring shows of ancient cultures contemporary with Greek and Rome. The latest example is "Nubia: Jewels of Ancient Sudan From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" (through Apr. 3, 2023). It's accompanied by "Adornment | Artifact" (through Mar. 5, 2023), a multi-media & five-venue  exhibition of 60-some contemporary L.A. artists exploring the cultural legacy of Nubia. 

Located along the Nile in today's Sudan and southern Egypt, Nubia has a history spanning over three thousand years. As the Kingdom of Kush, it was an important political power from about 1070 BC through Roman times. More recently, Nubia has became a focus of Black American pride and even a branding opportunity. "Black Panther" writer Ta-Neishi Coates has said he identifies the fictional "Wakanda" with Nubia. There was once a Nubian orange crate brand, and Kush Kingdom was a chain of L.A. marijuana dispensaries. 

"Nubia: Jewels of Ancient Sudan" is a selection drawn from America's pre-eminent collection of Nubian material. From 1913 through 1932 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard participated in well-documented Sudanese excavations and were allowed to keep a share of what was found. Boston's museum collection is now considered the best outside of Khartoum. 

At the title indicates, this is a show of small works in precious materials. The famous Hathor Pendant (top of post) is barely 2 inches high. Hathor was a goddess of motherhood. She surmounts a crystal ball that may have once contained a magic inscription. There's a loop behind Hathor's head that indicates it was a pendant. Nothing quite like this object has been found anywhere else.

Nubia's pyramids were more vertical than Egypt's.  This 1921 view of the Meroe Cemetery by Mohammedani Ibrahim Ibrahim was taken as part of the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition

Vessel in the Form of a Bound Oryx, Egyptian alabaster with modern wood horns, 700–660 BC. Boston MFA

Statue of King Senkamanisken, granite gneiss, 643–623 BC. Boston MFA
This is the show's one statue. Nubia ruled Egypt for 88 years as the 25th dynasty. This likeness of Senkamanisken (reigned 640–620 BC) dates from after the Nubians were expelled from Egypt. The hands-clenched stance is Egyptian, but Senkamanisken is shown with the double-cobra headdress of Nubian kings.
Necklace, carnelian, Egyptian alabaster, and obsidian, AD 50–320. Boston MFA
Merotic period (542 BC–400 AD) adornments favored a tomato red color scheme with accents of black and white. This necklace, contemporary with the glory days of Rome, juxtaposes semiprecious carnelian with black obsidian and off-white travertine, a.k.a. Egyptian alabaster.
Lauren Halsey, untitled, 2020
The Villa component of "Adornment | Artifact" is four works by Lauren Halsey, June Edmunds, Melvin Edwards, and Umar Rashid. All are strong, characteristic pieces, but only Rashid seems to have taken the Nubian premise literally. (Apedemak is a lion-headed god of the Meroitic period.) A braiding ad in Halsey's gypsum relief has a sleek Egyptian profile. Viewers are left to draw their own connections between Nubia and June Edmunds' juicy abstraction and Melvin Edwards' chain sculpture. 
Umar Rashid, untitled, 2022

June Edmunds, Made Light with Her Feathers, 2022

Melvin Edwards, Anai, 2021


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