Mariemont delves into Ancient Egypt

Fabian Meulenyser
02 juillet 2016
Summertime is nigh, ushering in all kinds of transitions. In addition to public transport and construction, many institutions settle into a summer lull that should lead them smoothly to the dawn of September. Contradicting this peaceful inertia, the Royal Museum of Mariemont has begun a highly colourful Egyptian marathon, with two exhibitions on ancient Egypt until the end of November : Gods, Genies, Demons of Ancient Egypt and From StargateTM to comics: The Egyptian gods in geek culture.

Two separate exhibitions in their content yet connected: the latter may be seen as a teaser of the first, richer in purely educational terms, but less attractive at first glance. A choice far from innocent: by presenting ancient Egypt with a contemporary – let alone playful – twist, the curators have clearly set the tone: there is something for everyone. Their objective was to put the museum among the top choices for a family outing this summer.

To mark the occasion and attract anyone still undecided, the MRM has put together a production worthy of MGM with a decidedly American presentation. The tone is set already along the museum’s driveway: around the bends, on the green lawns planted with rare species, the visitor’s gaze wanders to a sculptural Stargate, a faithful reproduction of the one used in the feature film Stargate, directed by Roland Emmerich in 1994. With the Egyptian civilisation as a backdrop, this science fiction film attained substantial popular success when it was released and gave birth to many franchises: TV series, video games, novels, comics and even playing cards... The gate reproduced here comprises more than 5,000 elements, cut out or 3D printed by a local company. It’s massive.

From StargateTM to comics takes visitors on a discovery of representations of Egyptian mythology in popular culture since 1975. The theory of the gods/astronauts, popularized by the book Chariots of the Gods written by Erich von Däniken in 1968, is the starting point of these modern variations. This far-fetched hypothesis, which attributes the technological advances of the human species to the visit of an alien civilisation, underlies many modern stories about the civilisation of Ancient Egypt, shown on the big and small screens.

Put together in part through crowdfunding, the exhibition gives pride of place to the Stargate SG-1 series derived from the eponymous film after Metro Goldwyn Mayer acquired the rights. And for a good reason: running over 10 seasons, it enjoyed critical acclaim and still boasts a large fan base to this day. While the exhibition was being designed, a few publications on specific forums were enough to promote it: costumes, objects, figurines and artworks used in Stargate SG-1 were loaned by collectors and reveal the backstage of a well-documented series, faithful to the different mythologies it raised for nearly a decade.

The exhibition concludes with a wide section dedicated to cartoons and comics (how could it be otherwise?), but also video games and board games with Egypt as a backdrop (Tomb Raider, etc.). It’s a bit short, and leaves us wanting. In this sense, mission accomplished. Our thirst for all things Egyptian will only be quenched once we’ve climbed a few steps to Gods, Genies, Demons of Ancient Egypt.

On the first floor, the second exhibition invites us to decipher the mysteries associated with Egyptian mythology by answering three main questions: What is a god? What role does it play? And how should it be represented and called? The religion of Ancient Egypt is complex, with many local idiosyncrasies. These hybrid features, coupled with a Judeo-Christian understanding of Egyptian beliefs, are the basis of much confusion on divine entities and their role. The exhibition skillfully dissects them to finally place the pyramid back in the middle of the village. In addition to the museum’s own impressively diverse collection – Mariemont’s collection dedicated to Ancient Egypt is considered the biggest in Wallonia since 2016 –, the exhibition is complemented by prestigious loans (the Louvre, King Baudouin Foundation, Museum August Kestner) bringing to 200 the number of exhibits. Amulets, statues, reliefs, in all shapes and sizes, are on display for the greatest pleasure of amateur Egyptologists.

It is obvious that a lot of effort has been made to present the artifacts so as to showcase the collection, without making it too burdensome. Throughout the exhibition pathway, many information panels dissect the various myths of Ancient Egypt: from the creation of the world to the sun’s rhythm, not to mention its essential relationship with death. To keep us on our toes and interested, the curator and scenographer have multiplied the informative media (audio, video, written explanations), taking care not to leave anyone by the wayside. Children are not left out, with a specific route that closely resembles the one used for the Sarcophagi exhibition at the Cinquantenaire.

One thing is certain: when you leave this double exhibition, you will know more or less everything you need to know about Osiris, Iris and the other gods! Both the young and old will find something interesting without much efforts, which is the yardstick by which to measure the success of an exhibition mainly composed of private collections. And to complete the picture, the museum is also running workshops on Egypt and comics at the beginning of the summer holidays. Solid and complete programming. All that’s missing for a perfect day is Ra, the Sun God, to make sure you can enjoy the beautiful grounds as you should. If your wish is granted, you will literally be able to consider yourself blessed by the gods…
From Stargate to comics: The Egyptian gods in geek culture
Gods, Genies, Demons of Ancient Egypt

Musée royal de Mariemont
100 Chaussée de Mariemont 
7140 Morlanwelz
Until 20 November
Every day, except Mondays (open on public holidays)
April - September, from 10:00h to 18:00h and October - March, from 10:00h to 17:00h


Fabian Meulenyser

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