Saturday, 27 February 2016

More old cocks



Tonight we're donning our glad-rags for the grand "One Night in Heaven" Ball to mark the end of LGBT History Month for 2016, featuring the unstoppable Andy Bell. However, on Thursday night I was overjoyed (once again) to attend the flagship event "Objects of Desire" at our fave small museum in London, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Another splendid evening of "frocks, rocks and cocks"...



Hosted as ever by the ebullient and learned John J Johnston, the premise is for a bevy of invited guests, prominent in the "LGBT world" and from a variety of non-archaeological disciplines, to talk about a chosen item from the Petrie's collection with a relevance to gay history.



First up was ethical florist, artist and designer Lauren Craig, whose choice was one of the newly displayed items from the Petrie's special exhibition on life in Amarna, the chosen capital of the 'heretic' Pharaoh Akhenaten, a fragment of wall art depicting a lotus and part of a poppy.



With encouragement from "J-J-J", she related this directly to her work campaigning for an improvement in working conditions for (the mainly female) workers who cultivate and harvest flowers in the Third World for use as decoration in the West; and together they wove into the discussion the importance of the Sacred Lotus in cosmetics and decorative arts throughout the Egyptian world.



Public Astronomer Marek Kukula chose as his item some tiny and corroded (and not outwardly impressive) iron beads - which, remarkably, date from a period 2,000 years before the Iron Age (long before humans first mastered the art of mining and smelting iron). Relevant to Mr Kukula's profession, it appears that the beads were worked from chippings taken from a meteorite, and, he surmised, must have been revered as a "gift from the Gods" back in those pre-Dynastic days.



His discussion also revealed how modern artists, working with the same methods as those ancient metalworkers, had attempted to recreate beads from meteorite material and - because the iron from space rocks is liberally mixed with crystals of nickel, which creates naturally exotic geometric patterns in the finished articles - they turned out to be quite beautiful indeed.



Dress and textile historian Daniel Milford-Cottam of the V&A [who is profoundly deaf and uses written notes to communicate, hence the fact that Public Programmer at The Petrie Museum the witty and charming Helen Pike was sat with him to interpret] naturally chose the remarkable Tarkhan Dress - a pleated linen gown that was recently confirmed to be the world's oldest known extant garment. It was made between 3482-3102BC, about the time that Stonehenge was under construction - and is still alluring.



The discussion not only surmised how the dress would actually have been worn [its skin-tight skirt is missing, but it would not have been a practical garment for walking in], but also covered its (and Egypt's visual style in general) influence on fashion to this day - especially some famous 20th century pleated gowns, such as Manuel Fortuny's Delphos gown and the work of Madame Grès, that obviously owe some of their origins to Ancient Egypt (alongside their more obvious homages to Ancient Greece and Rome).



The very lovely Sara Walton - author of the historical novel Rufius (about the outrageous exploits of a cinaedus [ultra-femme gay man] in turbulent times for Rome and Egypt) and reader at the most recent Polari - quite mischievously chose an item of cock-worship; a Graeco-Roman period terracotta model of a procession carrying a large phallus.



Of course, this gave "J-J-J" full rein to steer the discussion around the role of the phallus in Egyptian ceremony (and in more - ahem - domestic rituals; as a fertility token of course!). The audience was enraptured. This is LGBT History Month, after all, and the audience was indeed full of fellow phallus-worshippers...



Rob Eagle - visual anthropologist, documentary film-maker and occasional drag queen - is a long-time supporter of the Petrie Museum (and an avid fan of dressing as icons from Egypt's history). He arrived this year in the regalia of Horus the hawk-headed god to talk about one of the most popular LGBT-themed items in the collection (regularly featured in similar events we've attended here over the years) - a notorious papyrus fragment found at Lahun telling the (rather fruity) Tale of Horus and Seth. Dating from the Late Middle Kingdom (1850BC – 1700BC), it's an early version of the story that in its later incarnations became more violent.



However, in the Petrie Museum's copy Horus and Seth, who had been fighting over the throne of Egypt for over 80 years, have a well-deserved break from hostilities for a more intimate encounter. Seth flatters Horus with what is the oldest recorded gay chat-up line: “How lovely are your buttocks. And how muscular your thighs”. After a meal the two gods retire to bed and have sex - which the papyrus describes in all its glory:
Then Set said to Horus: "Come, let us have a feast day at my house." And Horus said to him: "I will, I will." Now when evening had come, a bed was prepared for them, and they lay down together. At night, Set let his member become stiff, and he inserted it between the thighs of Horus. And Horus placed his hand between his thighs and caught the semen of Set.
Steamy stuff!

This was a remarkably enjoyable evening (again). Even though I was on my own, once more, I had a wonderful time.

Long live the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology!

2 comments:

  1. "Just what this country needs. Another cock in a frock on a rock."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or one made out of rock, in this case. Jx

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