Ugly Object of the Month — September 2019

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

To celebrate the opening of the special exhibition Graffiti as Devotion Along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan, I’ve chosen a particular group of graffiti for this month’s Ugly Object post. The graffiti of El-Kurru were created by ancient pilgrims to the site’s Kushite temple and pyramid. Images of animals, textiles, boats, and people were carved into the surfaces of the structures’ sandstone columns and blocks, along with hundreds of cupules — or holes — of varying size. This blogroll is all about embracing the seemingly underwhelming, so it felt only natural to take a closer look at these mysterious holes.

carved graffiti on a sandstone column
Pictorial and cupule graffiti on a column drum from the temple at El-Kurru. Image courtesy of Suzanne Davis.

The same qualities that make Kurru sandstone so difficult to preserve — it is soft and readily disintegrates into sand — made it ideal for stone collecting. Suzanne and Geoff, who curated the exhibition, believe that pilgrims wanted to take a piece of the powerful temple structure with them as they continued on their journey. I can picture someone rotating a knife into the column surface while a pile of powder grows in their hand. This debris apparently brought protection or healing to whoever possessed it, which helps explain why the temple columns are so … holy.  Apparently, a lot of people wanted a piece of that Kurru magic!

Come see Graffiti as Devotion at the Kelsey Museum through March 29, 2020.

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