Egyptian Art and Culture

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Egyptian Art and Culture Current scholarship generally acknowledges that art does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, art is an expression of the culture which creates it, revealing common beliefs, aspirations, and feelings. Within the vein of "cultural art history" the true nature of ancient Egypt has become the focus of much questioning. Much has been said regarding this ancient civilization within the context of the continent of Africa. The focus has not been merely geographic—although some scholars contend that the physical location of Egypt has been all but overlooked. At the core of this controversy is the issue of ethnicity and culture. What was the identity of the people who built and populated ancient Egypt?1 Many scholars decry the separation of Egyptology from the study of sub-Saharan, so-called "black" Africa. Others continue to uphold a view of Egypt as an essentially "white" society and thus the basis of Western culture. No matter the outcome, this dialogue has led to a fruitful re-examination of the past, as well as a greater understanding of the art and culture of Egypt. While we cannot be certain of the ancient Egyptian skin tone, we have come to recognize the fundamental nature of a people who perceived their world as consisting of more than a physical reality. In order to understand Egypt, we must recognize that Egyptian art is primarily conceptual and symbolic in nature, serving to encode cultural information. Symbolism pervades all aspects of Egyptian art from method to material.2 The seemingly regimented system of symbolism was a means of interpreting life from the Creation to the Afterlife, as well as the perpetual struggle between creative and destructive forces. For a more complete understanding of Egyptian art, it is helpful to consider the concepts which defined the culture and shaped their world. In the Egyptian cosmic view there existed before all else a state termed Nun, which can be likened to the primordial ocean, the infinite source of all creation. The Nun represented the indefinable and inherently unknowable, that which was beyond human reckoning. It was imagined as "a swampy mire, a seething primal cradle in which lived four couples of serpents and frogs" whose names translate as ‘the initial waters,’ ‘inertia,’ ‘spatial infinity,’ ‘the darkness,’ and ‘That which is hidden.’"3 It was from the Nun that the Supreme Being wa... ... middle of paper ... ...Egypt, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Foster, John L., trans. Love Songs of the New Kingdom, New York, Scribner, 1974. Hart, George. The Legendary Past: Egyptian Myths, Austin, British Museum Publications University of Texas Press, 1990. Wilkinson, Richard H. Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, London, Thames and Hudson, 1994. Egypt/Africa Studies Crawford, Clinton. Recasting Ancient Egypt in the African Context: Toward a Model Curriculum Using Art and Language, Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, Inc., 1996. Kagan, Donald. "Stealing History: Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became An Excuse To Teach Myth: Review," The New Criterion, v. 14, March 1996: 54-59. Lehuard, Raoul. "Egypt in Africa," Arts d’Afrique Noire, no. 103, Autumn 1997: 54-59. Mertz, Barbara. Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt, New York, Dodd, Mead, 1978. Noguera, Anthony. How African Was Egypt? A Comparative Study of Ancient Egyptian and Black African Cultures, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Hollywood, Vantage Press, 1976. Wright, William. "The Whitewash of Egypt: Identifying Egypt and Nubia Separation of Ancient Egypt from the Rest of Africa," African Arts, v. 27, Autumn ’94: 10+.
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