POSTED ON AUGUST 18, 2010:
How to Live Forever
Philbrook's Third Thursday program proves there was nothing easy -- or cheap -- about making it to the afterlife
Death and All His Friends. Providing the deceased with a proper vessel to the afterlife was of utmost importance to the ancient Egyptians. Lower-class families often could only afford one sarcophagus for the entire family.
Philbrook's current exhibition, To Live Forever has impressed Tulsans all summer long with its beautifully painted mummies and ancient artifacts. The Third Thursday event in August will offer visitors a unique chance to participate in a hands-on scavenger hunt, make their own piece of Egyptian art and listen to Dr. Kara Cooney of the Discovery Channel explain what separates this exhibition from traditional Egypt shows.
The event takes place Aug. 19 at 5:30pm and invites visitors on a scavenger hunt through the exhibition, locating objects relevant to the evening's discussion. This portion of the evening will also include a cash bar and a chance for socializing.
Visitors will then have the opportunity to create their own clay amulet similar to those displayed in the exhibit. For Egyptians, amulets often functioned as jewelry worn around the neck and represented different beliefs or values from their culture.
For the burial process, Egyptians made amulets in the shape of scarabs -- dung beetles -- which represented the path of the sun moving across the sky -- or the path the soul takes in the afterlife. A scarab amulet, or heart scarab was a necessary element of the Egyptian burial process and was placed with the heart underneath the linens inside the sarcophagus.
At 6:30pm, Cooney, an Egyptologist and star of the Discovery Channel's Out of Egypt, will discuss Egyptian burial practices and culture from an economic standpoint. Cooney contributed to the exhibition's catalogue in an essay titled, "How Do You Live Forever Without Money to Afford Living Forever," in which she addressed the fact that most Egyptians were not wealthy enough to afford the glamorous sarcophagi we associate with their culture. Cooney explains that even if a family was struggling financially it was of utmost importance to provide their deceased with the fundamental elements of the burial process indicative of their culture such as canopic jars for organs and heart scarabs for direction into the afterlife.
Philbrook's exhibition is unique in that it gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of these little-known, less-affluent Egyptians who would often cut corners in order to provide their deceased with the burial rituals their culture deemed necessary in order to move forward to the afterlife. Examples of such modifications include burying their dead alongside canopic jars without the organs inside or even changing the names of previously used sarcophagi from its original resident to their most recently deceased.
The latter instance was often done among one family, seeing as sarcophagi were expensive and many families could only afford one. Other times, names were changed -- in what historians recognize as tomb robbery -- in desperate efforts to provide a family's dead with the proper vehicle to reach the afterlife.
The exhibit and Cooney's lecture are meant to bring the lives of the ancient Egyptians to a place of contemporary understanding. Financial struggles are a consistent theme in any culture, and Cooney's talk addresses the many ways our current culture is not so different from that of the Ancient Egyptians.
Glamorous King Tut exhibitions have monopolized the Egypt circuit, leaving non-historians to believe that all Egyptians were able to provide the same lavishly extravagant burial process for their dead. The clearest example that exposes the differences between what the varying social classes were able to provide their deceased can be found in the final room of the exhibition.
Situated side by side in the same case is a terracotta head and chest from a sarcophagus representing the lower class. To its right is a professionally gilded and painted gold cartonnage, or mask, of a wealthy woman that would lay on top of the linen wrapped body inside the sarcophagus. Both serve the same purpose but represent the substantial differences in what different classes could afford.
On her show, Out of Egypt, Cooney explores ways in which Egyptian culture has infiltrated other cultures throughout history. Not your typical historian, Cooney brings new life to the study of ancient Egypt making it relevant and easily understood in connection with out lives today.
Cooney's ability to make art a relevant part of contemporary life is exactly the mission behind Philbrook's Third Thursday program. Sarah Jesse, Director of Education and Public Programs for Philbrook, oversees the program, which began over a year and a half ago when Jesse moved to Tulsa from Chicago. Since its inception, the program has provided countless diverse and unconventional opportunities for Tulsans to connect with the ongoing contemporary evolution of the arts across the country.
"I'm not interested in targeting this program towards a united demographic," Jesse said. Instead, her goal is to use Third Thursday to draw in people with similar interests from diverse backgrounds who understand the value in making art relevant to our culture. The program also operates as a successful way of bringing in people who would not otherwise visit Philbrook.
Third Thursdays are a change of pace from conventional lectures. There is always an interactive component for visitors to connect with and make the evening more memorable. Third Thursdays are free with museum admission and are open to the public.
More information about Third Thursday is available online at philbrook.org.
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