Cat lover? US museum explores the power of felines in Ancient Egypt
Cat lover? US museum explores the power of felines in Ancient Egypt
In around 1950 BCE, a feline was painted on the back wall of a limestone tomb some 250 kilometers south of Cairo. It is clearly a domestic cat and seems ready to pounce on an approaching field rat. This is first inkling that cats were beginning to gain in stature and prestige in Ancient Egypt.
In the centuries that followed, cats became a fixture of Egyptian paintings and sculptures and were revered as they rose in prominence from rodent killer to eventually gain the stature of a divine being.
A collection of feline artwork is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” is a superb collection that explores feline themes in mythology, kingship and even everyday life.
Images of a mother cat nursing her kittens, or an attentive cat wearing gold earrings, help emphasize felines’ shift from domesticated cats to symbols of divinity in Ancient Egypt.
These now-immortalized Egyptian cats played an important role in Ancient Egyptian imagery for thousands of years and the Smithsonian’s temporary exhibition — most of the cats are on loan from the Brooklyn Museum’s world-famous Egyptian collection — features more than 80 objects that explore both wild and domestic cats, feline deities, mummified cats in burial practices and luxury items decorated with feline imagery.
“This exciting temporary exhibit is devoted to Ancient Egyptian cats, from the time of the pharaohs,” Massumeh Farhad, chief curator of Islamic Art and the Freer/Sackler Galleries for Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Smithsonian Institution, told Arab News during the exhibition’s recent press preview.
“The reason we became interested in the exhibition is because Mr. Sackler was extremely interested in Egyptian art, so much so that he traveled to Egypt three times during his lifetime.
“Here in the museum, the Islamic galleries promote the theme of ‘engaging in the senses’,” said Farhad. “They examine how sound, sight, taste and touch can affect a person. These senses lead inward to one’s inner senses which one hopes will lead to increased knowledge, memory and understanding.”
Lions and power
Whether hunting for food or protecting their cubs, felines — and most especially lions — captured the imagination of the Ancient Egyptians. They were venerated because of their power, ferocity and speed and also their graceful majesty.
Pharaohs and Egyptian kings used the imagery of felines to convey the divine, along with royalty and superiority.
Many kings felt the need demonstrate their control and superiority over these mighty animals in a bid to demonstrate their strength and dominance over all, including these large felines.
Pharaohs, especially during the New Kingdom period between 1550 BCE to 712 BCE, were displayed on murals as organizing lion hunts and royal places kept captured lions and other large felines in zoo-like enclosures on their palace property.
Image after image displays these powerful symbols throughout the exhibition.
“Look at this large cat with (a) paw over its other paw, it is meant to project confidence,” said Antonietta Catanzariti, the curatorial fellow at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries. “Think of the lions’ paws you’ve seen on the feet of chairs,” said Catanzariti, “these were a symbol of status that indicated both power and protection for the person sitting in the chair.”
Cats: From amulets to furniture
Images of felines were also used for protection — not only do we see them on furniture, but also on major points of structures. Cats, displayed on jewelry, were even commonly worn as amulets.
Statues of protective lions pre-dated the use of gargoyles, which we would later see on cathedrals throughout Europe. As for amulets, feline figurines were commonly worn in Ancient Egypt by the middle and upper classes, Catanzariti said.
“Bastet was one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous felines. (She was) a mother-goddess with protective and maternal attributes,” Catanzariti added. Bastet was worshipped in homes and temples, “just think of how a docile mother cat can become ferocious to protect her kittens,” Catanzariti said, explaining why the animal was revered.
“Sakhemet was another feline goddess (and) she was known as the ‘the powerful one,’ so powerful that she was thought to even be able to protect the king while in battle and also in his everyday life,” Catanzariti told Arab News.
“In ancient Egypt, the king or pharaoh would always travel with objects that represented his status and strength. Lions were used for protection and power during his war activities in other countries.”
To have a lion at his side was viewed as the ultimate power. “The king wanted to control the lions to demonstrate to his citizens that he was in control of all — even over lions — which was why they were portrayed in hunting scenes with the pharaohs, they represented royalty.”
Bes is another cat deity, venerated because she was thought to help during transitional moments, such as childbirth.
“Bes was seen as a more intimate deity and was associated with mothers. Women wore images of her and used her as an amulet,” said Catanzariti, whose passion for the objects at the exhibition is contagious.
Succinct descriptions throughout the exhibition guide and enlighten visitors on various feline themes, so even if you wander around without a guide, you are sure to leave with some interesting facts.
The exhibition is on display at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and closes on Jan. 15, 2018.
Vogue shines a light on Yara Shahidi, Priyanka Chopra and maybe even the Khadra twins
DUBAI: Vogue magazine is set to spotlight young talent in its August 2018 issue, with a feature on Iranian-American actress Yara Shahidi, possible photos of US-Palestinian DJs Simi and Haze Khadra and snaps of Bollywood-to-Hollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra.
The Khadra twins took to Instagram late last week to post a shot from their project with Vogue, which they captioned “(Behind the scenes) for @voguemagazine August issue.” The magazine has released scant information about the apparent collaboration, but it’s safe to say the final product will be interesting to say the least — the twins wore puffed up, oversized neon coats in the photo with each of their sharp hair-dos dyed to match the green and pink outfits.
Born in Saudi Arabia and partly raised in Dubai, Simi and Haze Khadra, known around the world by their moniker “SimiHaze,” are regularly seen with the likes of Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez and the Hadid sisters.
The pair regularly play DJ sets at parties and festivals and have even played for eager crowds at this year’s Instagram-famous Coachella festival in the US.
Iranian-American actress Shahidi, of “Black-ish” fame, is also set to be featured in the hallowed pages of the magazine.
Shahidi, who hails from a highly accomplished family — one of her cousins is the rapper Nas, while another, Anousheh Ansari, was the first Iranian-American astronaut — talks about her astonishing achievements in the interview, which is available on Vogue’s website.
“She has discussed political activism with Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, is a brand ambassador for Chanel, and started a voting guide for young people called Eighteen x ‘18. She graduated last year from the Dwight School in New York, having received acceptance letters from every college she applied to, and will start at Harvard in the fall. She can tell you the year she becomes eligible to run for president off the top of her head,” an excerpt from the interview conducted by Vogue’s Carina Chocano reads.
The actress has, in the past, been vocal about her Iranian-African-American heritage and even called herself “a proud black Iranian” — her father, Afshin Shahidi, moved from Iran to the US when he was eight-years-old, while her mother is a US-born actress.
“One of my greatest fears is living a self-centric life. I think this industry is bred to create that — especially if your physical body is your tool or your face is what makes you money,” the wise-beyond-her-years 18-year-old told the magazine.
She is as known for her political activism as her acting chops, and famously opposed the proposed US immigration ban that caused uproar last year, shairng a message on her social media accounts at the time saying: “If my baba was stuck in an airport because of a Muslim ban 39 years ago, he would have never fallen in love with my mama. I would not exist and I wouldn’t have two amazing brothers.”