Tag Archives: art

Cheddar Man and Nefertiti tell a tale of two different historical reconstructions

Reconstructions of Cheddar Man and the Younger Lady

Diversity is a hot topic in all arenas, and that includes the world of forensic anthropology. This week, we’ve had two big revelations hit the anthropological news cycle, and while one finding cements what I’ve thought of as a truth long deferred, the other is a head-scratch.

1. Cheddar Man is revealed to be dark-skinned

In what can only be described as a shock to many who assumed England’s ancient peoples were fair-skinned and engaged in racial politics, the oldest complete skeleton in British history, Cheddar Man (named as such because of it being found in Cheddar Gorge), is actually a dark-skinned man with curly dark hair and blue eyes.

This is what scientists originally thought Cheddar Man looked like:

An early bust of Cheddar Man, which depicted him as white.
An early bust of Cheddar Man, which depicted him as white.

And this is what he actually looked like:

An updated reconstruction of Cheddar Man, which features dark skin, blue eyes, and dark hair.
An updated reconstruction of Cheddar Man, which features dark skin, blue eyes, and dark hair. (Channel 4)

According to The Guardian, advanced DNA analysis has revealed that Cheddar Man and his ilk weren’t the light-skinned people science believed them to be. Instead, their skin was “dark to black,” which lends even more weight to the scientific fact that all people originated from Africa; Cheddar Man lived in England shortly after humans migrated to Britain from continental Europe at the end of the last ice age, and white Britons today are the ancestors of this group of migrants.

Cheddar Man’s skin color reveals that the genes for lighter skin “became widespread at a much in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today,” wrote The Guardian’s Hannah Devlin.

I find this fascinating, not just because of the whole “everyone comes from Africa” thing, but because of how this discovery should change the way we view race and skin color. What should happen is that everyone–especially those with racially prejudicial ideas–take a good look at themselves and realize how meaningless skin color actually is. If tons of white Britons are descendants of this black man, how does this put anyone on a different pedestal from anyone else?

Cheddar Man’s skin revelations should also change the way we see history. Sites like Medieval POC exist to close the gaps in the West’s thought process about how race was conceptualized in the 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19th centuries. But, because of today’s current dialogue about race in history–a dialogue that is laced with stereotypes, racism, and traces of the same pseudo-science that made the Atlantic Slave Trade possible–it can seem hard to open people’s minds up to the fact that darker-skinned people not only lived in what are now white European spaces, but they thrived and, in many cases, accepted by the masses. Race as a construct did enter European society at some point, but our modern thoughts about race are relatively new in relation to the evolution of human society–and they’re erroneous.

As reported in The Guardian:

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: “It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.”

Yoan Diekmann, a computational biologist at University College London and another member of the project’s team, agreed, saying the connection often drawn between Britishness and whiteness was “not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change.”

What would be cool is if Cheddar Man changes how modern media depicts ancient Europeans and ancient people in general; will this allow for more diverse casting and more in depth storylines, or will Hollywood and British cinema ignore these findings? I hope they don’t, because how cool would it be to see Idris Elba as an ancient European in a period film?

2. Is this Nefertiti the actual Nefertiti?

Another reconstruction making waves is Nefertiti. The Nefertiti we know is the famous bust discovered in 1912, sculpted by the official royal sculptor Thutmose, whose style was decided naturalistic despite him being a part of the highly stylistic and androgynous Amarna Period of Egyptian art. As you can see in the photo below, Nefertiti’s look is defined by a graceful long neck, full lips, a straight, thin nose, and deep tan skin.

Bust of Nefertiti
Bust of Nefertiti (Public Domain/Wikipedia)
Front view of the Nefertiti bust
Front view of the Nefertiti bust (Giovanni/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0)

This isn’t the only Nefertiti sculpture Thutmose created; a granite statue of Nefertiti showcases the same facial features as the more popular bust.

Granite statue of the head of Queen Nefertiti, from the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose. On display at the Ägyptisches Museum.
Granite statue of the head of Queen Nefertiti, from the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose. On display at the Ägyptisches Museum. (Keith Schengili-Roberts/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

So, when this new bust was revealed on Today, people naturally scratched their heads in disbelief. This new bust, which was created after scientists compared historical images of Nefertiti with the facial characteristics of the mummy rumored to be Nefertiti nicknamed “The Younger Lady.” But as you can see below, this bust looks nothing like what Thutmose sculpted eons ago.

A bust depicting a forensic reconstruction of the Younger Lady, now believed to be Nefertiti.
A bust depicting a forensic reconstruction of the Younger Lady, now believed to be Nefertiti. (The Travel Channel/Twitter)

Not every expert is on board with declaring the Younger Lady is actually Nefertiti. Raymond Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey project and Research Associate and Associate Professor at the University of Chicago in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, told WGN9 he disbelieves the claim and went into detail as to why the Younger Lady doesn’t line up with what Egyptologists know about Nefertiti’s life. He states a lot in his interview, which I suggest your read in full, but here are the main points.

The Younger Lady, who was buried alongside other familial mummies in Amenhotep’s royal tomb, is actually the daughter of Amenhotep and Queen Tiye, and is also the mother of Tutankhamun. This connection was revealed through leading Egyptologist Zahi Hawass’ DNA testing of the mummies found in the tomb, including the Younger Lady. According to Johnson, there is “no text” where Nefertiti was identified as a royal daughter. “If she had been a daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye, it would have been clearly stated in her inscriptions, and there are hundreds of text that survive mentioning Nefertiti with no mention of her parents.”

• All of the sculptures of Nefertiti from the Amarna Period show the same facial characteristics–“a straight nose, heavy-lidded eyes, long graceful neck, and a strong square jaw.” As Johnson states, “The forensically reconstructed face with its narrow skull, deep-set eyes, and triangular jaw is beautiful but in no way resembles the portraits that survive of Nefertiti. That said, they could be relatives.” Johnson believes they could be cousins instead.

• As “the gateway out of the African continent,” Egypt has always had a racially diverse citizenry, and Amenhotep III had many wives who were both Egyptian and foreign, including Caucasian women. But, said Johnson, Nefertiti’s skintone would still be darker than how it’s presented in the recreation. “A brown skin color would have probably been more true to the individual represented, and to her times.”

So with all of this said, what do I think about this bust? I think that, while being expertly rendered, it doesn’t match up to what Thutmose sculpted, and he was actually there during her life. If anyone should know what she looked like, it should be him. Granted, there could be some artistic liberties; some of the characteristics of the Amarna Period include highly feminine features and royalty were usually depicted as youthful, regardless of their age. But Thutmose is notable in that he sculpted the middle aged and elderly as well as the young. He even sculpted an older Nefertiti, depicting the changes her body underwent from birthing children. To be fair, this could have been stylistic as well, to showcase fertility, but if that’s the case, why create the other sculptures, which look true to life?

Another caveat is that perhaps for royalty, Thutmose combined both reality and fantasy. Despite the realism present, there are still stylistic elements that can be found in the Nefertiti bust. The symmetry of the face, for one, could be read as a calculated artistic choice. The huge eyebrows, which might have been painted on the real Nefertiti (since ancient Eygptians filled in and exaggerated their real eyebrows with makeup) add to the symmetry and perfection of the sculpture. It could be that the bust we know and love is just an old-school version of FaceTune. That’s a theory that could be truer than we think, since sarcophogi, such as the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun is also artistically stylized and doesn’t reflect all of what’s shown in the reconstructions of Tutankhamun, as pictured below.

I personally don’t want to believe everything from Thutmose’s workshop was a lie, though. Nefertiti’s beauty was heralded in her time as much as it is now, which leads me to believe there’s more truth to the iconic bust than fakery. If Thutmose captured beauty, then I’m sure she was actually beautiful in real life. The Younger Lady doesn’t look bad, though. I will say from looking at one of the reconstructions of King Tut that the Younger Lady is most definitely his mother. They have the same overbite, jaw structure, and eye socket structure.

Comparison between the reconstructions of the Younger Lady and Tutankhamun.
Comparison between the reconstructions of the Younger Lady and Tutankhamun.

To address the skin color issue: Ancient Egyptians’ skintones were clearly documented by artists contemporary to the times. Artists of the Coptic Period engaged in realism when painting subjects such as the subjects depicted in the Fayum mummy portraits, which showcased men and women with dark hair and tan skin.

Portrait of a man from the Fayum province, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Portrait of a man from the Fayum province, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Portrait of a woman from the Fayum province with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings. Royal Museum of Scotland. (Public Domain)
Portrait of a woman from the Fayum province with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings. Royal Museum of Scotland. (Public Domain)
Portrait of a man with sword belt from the Fayum province with British Museum. Public Domain
Portrait of a man with sword belt from the Fayum province with British Museum. (Public Domain)

There are also other reconstructions of ancient Egyptians. Here’s another reconstruction of Tutankhamun published in National Geographic in 2005–this one is a little more favorable to him in the looks department and more closely matches some of the sculptures made of him during his life. In this reconstruction, his skin tone is definitely a dark tan.

Forensic reconstruction of Tutankhamun.
Forensic reconstruction of Tutankhamun. (Photo credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt, and National Geographic Society, 2005)

Here’s another reconstruction, this time of a woman nicknamed “Meritamun.” The reconstruction includes information gathered from modern day Egyptians, which you can assume includes skintone.

Reconstruction of ancient Egyptian woman nicknamed "Meritamun."
Reconstruction of ancient Egyptian woman nicknamed “Meritamun.” ( Jennifer Mann/Paul Burston/University of Melbourne)

Based on the other reconstructions and mummy portraits, as well as a Google search of images of modern-day Egyptians, it seems like what’s throwing people off is the undertone used for the Younger Lady’s skintone reconstruction. Yes, there were olive-toned Egyptians; with a port empire like Egypt, leading to a cross-cultural mix, there had to have been a myriad of skintones among Egyptians. But the Younger Lady’s undertone is probably a smidge too pink, which lends the eye to read it as “European” or, like how some called it online, “white.” Meanwhile, the other reconstructions, statues, and paintings from ancient Egypt show people with yellow and neutral undertones. While the Younger Lady does have a touch of yellow in her undertone, the pink is affecting how the yellow would affect the overall skintone.

But I actually hesitate to call this reconstruction of the Younger Lady “white.” Again, there were a myriad of skintones in ancient Egypt, and while I have some issues with how much pink there is in the Younger Lady’s undertone, it’s still worth understanding that a woman this color wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in ancient Egypt. She might look “white,” but it doesn’t mean she’d be out of place. If it turns out her skintone was actually this color, undertones and all, her skin also wouldn’t make her any less African.

What do you think about these reconstructions? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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3 of the most jaw-dropping moments from the “All the Stars” music video

A closeup of Kendrick Lamar sitting in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.

It took me a full day, but I’ve finally seen the music video for SZA and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther song, “All the Stars.” As someone who saw Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video when it premiered during primetime television back in the ’90s, I thought I’d never see a music video rival it as the most unapologetically black music video ever. While Beyonce might have won 2016 and 2017 with her Lemonade visuals and Southern Gothic aesthetic, I think “All the Stars” tops it and even “Remember the Time” as the most awe-inspiring music video I’ve seen in years. Marvel, you’ve completely undone yourself with this entire Black Panther franchise; I hope y’all at Marvel understand exactly why the outpouring of creativity and love is overflowing for this movie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I implore you to drop everything you’re doing and watch it right now. Real talk: this music video just might make you cry.

If there’s a way to frame an entire music video and put it on my wall, I would. This music video is not only gorgeous, but it’s a love letter to Africa–a homage to the continent’s rich past, vibrant present, and a future filled with possibilities. It, like Wakanda, shows a glimpse into an Africa the West hasn’t seen; an Africa that is seen without the lens of colonialism and imperialism.

I might have had my DNA test done to reveal exactly what parts of Africa I come from, but at the end of the day, I’m still an African-American who is divorced from many of my ancestors’ cultures, so unfortunately a lot of the references in this video have gone over my head. Thankfully, my DNA test has allowed me to start researching my various peoples and their cultures and, particularly for this video, there are posts outlining many of the video’s cultural elements. But even with my limited knowledge, there were three moments out of the many that stood out the most to me.

1. The ocean of hands

Kendrick Lamar stands amid a stormy backdrop on a boat that sails on a sea of hands ushering him to Africa.
Kendrick Lamar stands on a boat that sails on a sea of hands ushering him to Africa. (YouTube/screenshot)

There was something so eerie, haunting, and strangely calming about this opening scene featuring Lamar on a raft in the middle of a sea of black arms and hands. What I immediately thought of was the Atlantic Slave Trade, which trafficked at least 10 to 12 million Africans from their homelands to the New World. That stretch of sea is filled with the ghosts of my ancestors, and to see Lamar riding the waves of their hands reminded me how even in death, they made it possible for me to survive.

I also saw the haunting sea in reverse; it was as if those same souls that were lost centuries ago were able to find their way back home in the afterlife. Despite their tribulations on earth, they were able to find peace. From that point of view, it’s as if those same souls are guiding Lamar back to the lands of his ancestors. There was so much said in that scene without Lamar ever saying a word.

2. The Dandies

Kendrick Lamar sits in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.
Kendrick Lamar sits in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.(YouTube/screencap)

I’d written about the political importance of Africa’s dandies before in my Black Panther fashion post, but to keep it brief, the dandy movement is one that reclaims African pride by turning Western/colonial fashion inside out and repurposing it as both a form of wearable protest and a sign to the world of Africans’ humanity. To see the dandies put on display like this warmed my heart–the sartorial excellence of course is fun, but showcasing movement’s political relevance in this way has only made the dandy movement stronger, and as far as I’m concerned, that can only be a great thing.

3. The goddesses

Kendrick Lamar stands on the flooded floor of a golden room looking up to four gigantic women, the goddesses of the temple.
Kendrick Lamar stands on the flooded floor of a golden room looking up to four gigantic women, the goddesses of the temple. (YouTube/screencap)

The final shots of the music video have Lamar in what looks like an temple comprised of imagery and symbols of several African cultures  standing in awe of giant women clad in gold. Clearly, these women are the goddesses of old, and Lamar is paying his respects to them. For me, these women represent the lost goddesses of African religions. When I say “lost,” I don’t mean they’re lost to the world; there are many who still worship the gods and goddesses of the Yoruba and Igbo people, for instance. What I mean is that they’re lost to me. The slave trade made us African-Americans lose everything, including our religions, and seeing these women act in place of those goddesses made me realize that the music video was, once again, bringing us black viewers–and Lamar–back in touch with our roots. These goddesses act as messengers to the rest of the world that Africa is the motherland; Africa is meant to nurture, to uplift, and be respected and honored. Lamar seemed like he got the message. But if it still wasn’t clear to some viewing, the music video cuts to SZA’s hairstyle, which is in the shape of the entire continent. It was a stylistic and elegant version of a mic drop.

Overall, the entire music video left me feeling hopeful and, honestly, a little misty-eyed. This is the Africa I’ve always wanted to see portrayed. This is affirming on a gutteral level, more than I thought a music video could ever be. I’ve come away from it feeling like I’ve retained a chunk of my cultural identity that had been lost. As much as it is a cliche to type, I can honestly say I feel seen. This music video is definitely 2018’s version of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

How did you feel after watching the music video? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Pirelli dips “Alice in Wonderland” in melanin for its 2018 calendar

Pirelli has outdone themselves this year with their exclusive Pirelli calendar. The pity is that none of us plebians can get a copy.

This year, the innovative automotive and cycling tire company used Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as its inspiration and, in a stroke of genius, the company decided to use an all-black cast.

The cast, ranging from entertainment and fashion figures to social activists, were styled by Edward Enninful (now serving as British Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief) and shot by English photographer Tim Walker.

The cast includes (according to the press release):

Adut Akech as The Queen of Diamonds; Adwoa Aboah as Tweedledee; Alpha Dia as Five-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Djimon Hounsou as The King of Hearts; Duckie Thot as Alice; Jaha Dukureh as Wonderland Princess; King Owusu as Two-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Lil Yachty as The Queen’s Guard; Lupita Nyong’o as The Dormouse; Naomi Campbell as The Royal Beheader; RuPaul as The Queen of Hearts; Sasha Lane as The Mad March Hare; Sean “Diddy” Combs as The Royal Beheader; Slick Woods as The Madhatter; Thando Hopa as The Princess of Hearts; Whoopi Goldberg as The Royal Duchess; Wilson Oryema as Seven-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Zoe Bedeaux as The Caterpillar.

When I saw these photos, I certainly saw shades of traditional fashion styling, but I also saw veiled, if unintentional, callbacks to late ’90 music video filming techniques, such as the slight fish eye lens, Hype Williams-esque quality some of the images have, the boldness of the costumes chosen, and the sheer attitude that jumps from the images. Here’s some images from the calendar, posted to Pirelli’s Instagram page (click picture to see image on Instagram):

Couldn’t Pirelli lift their “not for sale” rule on their calendars just this once? I know tons of us would love to own this one. Go to pirellicalendar.pirelli.com to learn more.

What do you think about these pictures? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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The Sikh Coalition’s Photography Exhibition, The Sikh Project, To Debut

The Sikh Coalition (Facebook)
The Sikh Coalition (Facebook)

If you’re in New York Sept. 17, check out a very special photography exhibit. The Sikh Coalition is debuting their first ever Sikh photography exhibition in the U.S!

The exhibition, “The Sikh Project,” is the result of a partnership between The Sikh Coalition and British photographers Amit and Naroop. As The Sikh Coalition states, the exhibit captures “the beauty of the Sikh faith and the depth of the Sikh American experience.” To quote the site:

As we reflect on 15 years since 9/11 and commemorate the 15th anniversary milestone for our organization, we believe it’s an important moment to celebrate the Sikh experience and identity. The Sikh Project includes 38 new portraits of turbaned men and women that embody the diversity of the Sikh American community and recognize the challenges and triumphs of what it means to be Sikh in America.

According to Brooklyn.com the exhibit will feature 40 portraits of Sikh women and men who come from all walks of life. The goal of the exhibit is to challenge what viewers preconceived notions might be of Sikhs and the turban in general, which has been linked to Islamophobia. The event will also act as an anniversary commemoration of The Sikh Coalition, which, as Brooklyn.com states, was created after 9/11 to address the discrimination and xenophobia Sikhs in America were facing.

As Saupreet Kaur, the executive director of The Sikh Coalition, told Brooklyn.com:

“As we commemorate the 15th anniversary for our organization and reflect on the Sikh American experience 15 years after September 11, 2001, particularly during this period of heightened divisive rhetoric and hate backlash, we feel that the moment is right to highlight the beauty of the Sikh faith and the strength of our collective spirit, and to do so in a way that further educates the broader American public….Our aspiration is to spark conversations across the country about what it means to look like an American, and to humanize communities who are too often regarded as ‘other.’ There is no better means of opening hearts and minds than through the arts.”

The event is free to the public and will take place Sept. 17 through Sept. 25 at 530 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 between 10am to 8 pm, with extended hours on weekends. For groups of 25 or larger, email sikhproject@sikhcoalition.org. To learn more about the event, visit www.sikhcoalition.org/sikhproject and www.amitandnaroop.com. You can also learn more at the Sikh Coalition’s Facebook page.