Who was the Pharaoh Akhenaten?
Strange and exotic yet unnervingly familiar – Egyptian civilisation echoes through our consciousness through architecture, art, films, language, music, engineering… the list goes on and on. So it is very exciting to see a rare Egyptian object up close.
The Herbert showed a carved relief of the Pharaoh Akhenaten from Tuesday 7 September to Tuesday 14 September. The object is part of the collection held by the British Museum and is a bit of a teaser for an exhibition called Secret Egypt coming up at the Herbert next year. My involvement was to organise a team of volunteers to help people make the most of their visit to the exhibit and gather information for next year’s exhibition. Having it here has created quite a buzz – it was only here for a week which somehow seemed to add to the excitement.
There were two volunteers taking part every day and by the end of the second day they had welcomed one hundred visitors. One of the volunteers said: “I think it is wonderful. The actual thing itself is only small but knowing how old it is makes it really special. The film has been really brilliant. It has really whetted people’s appetites. I really like Egypt, I’m fascinated by anything to do with it. I think it is the strangeness such as mummification, the things they believed, their intelligence and the things they built. They had so many inventive things like make-up. I must have watched everything on the telly to learn as much as I can.”
Another volunteer told me about her experience so far. “It has been good fun but tiring. The first two days have been really busy. The visitors were well spaced out and we really enjoyed it. You feel like you want to be an Egyptian yourself. They seemed so elegant. A lady came who was very knowledgeable, with a friend who was a bit reluctant but by the end of the visit she had been won over. One visitor really liked the way the panels were hung so that they looked like they were hovering in mid-air. The atmospheric lighting gave it a tomb-like feel.”
We have had some really positive comments from visitors:
“I don’t go to London, I can’t afford it … so I came to the museum.”
“I would love to go to Egypt but I will never get the chance – today a little bit of Egypt has come to me.”
The exhibition ‘Who was Pharaoh Akhenaten?’ ended on Tuesday 14 September 2010. The Secret Egypt exhibition takes place from February to June 2011.