I am not the least embarrassed. I love to talk out loud whenever I am inside the British Museum!
Rising out of the Bloomsbury area of London as if it were a descendent of the Great Sphinx itself, the walls are glowingly prestigious and its artefacts unparalleled in their diversity to touch expansively upon vast human timelines of history, culture and the arts. Besides the times when I lose myself between the covers of an addictive book and my Amma cannot nudge me out of its spell even as she threatens and charges at me with her radioactive flip-flops, I would state categorically that it is in the riveting fodder of curiosities only found within the kingdom of a museum that has such gripping hold on my carnivorous imagination that time and place become an inconsequential small print.
Ancient Egypt will always fare as my favourite gallery. Each artefact that I should come across, neatly and carefully propped up on a clean white podium or perhaps pinned behind the shrine of a glass cubicle, unfortunately has already been ransacked with more camera flashes than the collective number of all the lightning bolts ever to have criss-crossed through the smoggy skies of London in any recorded year.
I do like to have a good giggle when I spot that customary practice elicited by many visitors when they whip out their long fishing rods of self-promotion, known as ‘selfie sticks’ in the common tongue, and take highly contrived shots of themselves posing triumphantly with celebrity exhibits. What they do not know, and that I fondly contemplate, is that these selfies are fulfilling an ancient faith.
The grand narrative of these ancient people centred on the concept of resurrection. Countless catalogued funereal objects have been acquired and examined, gleaming in masterful detail and variety and proving that the ancient Egyptians were fiercely dedicated to ensuring that the journey to the afterlife was made as comfortable and refined as possible. Their ingenious techniques of preservation of the corpse, known as the process of mummification, revolved around the belief that if the soul was pure it would dutifully return to the body to live beyond the grave, in a heavenly and eternal life. In a big way, they were right and I can see that as lucidly as the sky on a bright summer’s day. The selfie revolution has inadvertently aroused the dead to come back to life, insofar in that brief moment of capture the selfie poser indeed does behave as though the inanimate statue next to them is live and well!
Ask any of my companions who brave a museum visit with me and they will outwardly report back to You that I have an excruciatingly hilarious habit of rocketing out fitful giggles as the selfie pundits get to work as they put an arm around a basalt statute of the pharaoh’s accountant, whilst beaming a smile rich in elastin straight into the eye of the camera. Sometimes I have been known to shout out “Bingo!” accompanied with the flicking of a cheeky wink at the statue! No, I do not wink at the poser! I have no intention in the world to be picked up by gorilla-grade security and humiliatingly thrown out of those hallowed corridors and onto the street! Ahem, ahem!
I cannot say that I am a fan or follower of the selfie craze. But, if on the agenda we are relating to the issue of the ancient artefacts of the Egyptian gallery, then I have before me an exceptional context in which I will quite happily agree to make a concession. Hands down I shall confess that these tiny bits of blinking metal, that perform the duties of a phone as well as a million other mind-boggling functions, have a staggering power to criminally stimulate some of the most absurd and farcical bouts of role-play ever imaginable in the name of selfie-hood, and yet their relished use in a gallery of stone pharaohs and key dignitaries of an ancient land, once haunted and preoccupied with the afterlife and resurrection, fascinatingly perpetuates a specific brand of magic. The magic of a prophecy fulfilled. The visitors may be faking it, however when I notice that arm wrapping round the pharaoh, half timidly and half amiably, or that hyperactive gang of students who jump next to Imhotep and eagerly gesture out the victory sign, I secretly exchange a smug grin with the statue. It is undoubtedly a unique theatrical stage, for after all, if I were to send You out to attempt to capture friendly selfies with the bald mannequins of your local shop, Your anomalous antics would most certainly be construed outrageous and unsavoury, landing You in the psychiatric ward in no time at all!
Nevertheless, I do not own a smarty pants phone so how am I to wake the snoring pharaoh from the stubborn slumber of a thousand years of deadness? Understandably, I feel that I ought to be able to achieve this since I am an ardent Egyptologist at heart. I, too, ought to perform this amazing magic of resurrection!
I do have a little something. A constructive rebellion.
The imagination of a Storyteller.
Not one single visitor in all my frequent explorations of the ancient Egyptian gallery at the British Museum has ever successfully come near to taking their selfie next to the pharaonic chap in the photograph below. How can they possibly? This mighty chap is a colossal giant and his head is several metres above floor level. Veneered in impressive brassy gold that appears to radiate in the freshness of the day it was built, the face is large and dignifiedly looks out towards the long corridor of the gallery, as if he were appointed by the gods to watch over the safety of this fortress of hard-won and hard-earned knowledge. The visitors do not pay him any attention because he offers no incentive for self-promotion. One would have to endure the possibility of severe injury if they were to concede to clambering up his body to accomplish a selfie with him!
People pass him by and no one deigns to look up, and those that do spend a scant few seconds in his shadow, do so impatiently, before racing onto a less startling but more accessible figure. I decidedly walk over to him, and with my hands in my jean pockets, I remember speaking out loud, “So those hungry rats staking out in the disused tunnels underneath London city finally got to your regal beard and chewed it off! You poor chap, did it hurt?”
Chipped though he was, he at last knew he was not forgotten. The air just in front of his gnawed beard quivered. I would like to believe in my imagination that a sigh of relief had passed between the lips of my golden pharaoh… ♥♥♥
Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016
Photography: Originally Posted As ‘A Jolly Good Easter Holiday In Paddington’s London ’ © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories – Saatchi Website | Spring Reunion Series | London | UK 2015