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Embodying Antiquity: Unearthing the Politics of Re-enactment at the Pharaonic Village
What is at stake when museums bring history ‘to life’ at the site of the Pharaonic Village? The Pharaonic Village, opened to the public in 1984, boasts several rooms that represent the so-called valences of Egyptian history and identity, as well as Jacob Island, the site upon which the live re-enactment of Pharaonic life is performed. Live re-enactments obfuscate subjectivity to open up new possibilities for the heterotopic in a hermeneutic and affective experience intended to narrate a particular heritage of grandeur as it relates to Ancient Egypt. Weaving in cultural policy, museology, and performance analysis I argue that the museum, which began as a "place of spectacle and visual arrangement," as exemplified by Dr. Timothy Mitchell's work on the World Exhibition of 1889, morphed into an archive of material culture, and has now returned to the state of a stage due to the promulgation of live re-enactment (Mitchell 1989, 221). I argue that the re-enactments of Ancient Egyptian ‘civilisation’ (and by proxy, ‘civility’) subverts the didactic capacity of the museum as it redraws a genealogy of authenticity to the Egyptian audience. First, this paper seeks to examine the key players in the (re)construction of what constitutes the genealogy of ‘modern-day’ Egyptian civilisation at the postcolonial juncture, namely extricating Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Taha Hussein as primary sources. Secondly, I will explore the capacity for the museum to function as a stage — a departure from Foucauldian theory — particularly as it relates to the colonial history of Egyptian artifacts and their archiving. Ultimately, this paper discusses the role of visual and material culture at the site of the Pharaonic Village by proposing the valences of subjectivity per Bhabha’s theory of ‘hybridity’ — in that the live re-enactment quite literally embodies a ’Third Space of enunciation’ through what Bennett labels a “mechanism of modernity” (Bennett 2017, 13).
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