REVIEW: Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s Graffiti as Devotion

Before I proceed to the actual review of the Graffiti as Devotion exhibit, I’d like to take a moment to praise the kind man at the front desk who greeted me as I walked into the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology for the first time. He obviously could tell that I had no idea where anything was, and so beckoned me over to his desk immediately with a smile and a: “Hello! How are you doing today? Have you been in the museum before?”

Let me just say, that was the first time I’d ever been greeted so enthusiastically at a museum before. Normally, I’m just given a suspicious, once-over glare by one of the on duty security guards as they silently warn me not to breath on any of the exhibits. At least, that’s how its been at any museum I’ve ever gone to. But not at Kelsey! So, as I made my way up the stairs to their Graffiti as Devotion exhibit, I made a silent promise to the front desk man: “Even if this exhibit is horrible and I have to give an unpleasant review, at least I can make a point of praising their staff!”

I am very relieved to say that this will not be an unpleasant review, so if you were looking forward to a cutthroat rail against an archaeology exhibit, I’m sorry to disappoint…not really.

Graffiti as Devotion is an exhibit that highlights ancient graffiti found by a team of Kelsey archaeologists in El- Kurru, Sudan. The site is best known as a pyramid cemetery for the ancient kings and queens of Kush who ruled from 850 to 650 BCE., according to exhibit information. These ruins harbor many religious carvings (graffiti), diligently carved into the stone by pilgrims who traveled for miles in order to witness, what they believed, to be holy places of their gods.

At first, I was surprised to see that there was next to nothing in the way of photographs of this precious ancient graffiti. The few photographs there were, were small and placed on large canvases that featured extensive text concerning El-Kurru and the graffiti found there. However, I soon discovered, (while reading these texts), that there was a good reason photographs of the graffiti weren’t present. Because the graffiti is carved into stone, the appearances of the carvings vary greatly depending on the light of day. Thus, in order to show the graffiti of El-Kurru as faithfully as possible, the Kelsey team took hundreds of photos of many of the graffiti carvings across the site, all at different times of day. They then coalesced these images into an interactive program that allows the viewer to select a certain graffito and drag their finger across the screen in order to see how the carving’s appearance changes throughout the day. Thus, not only is a visitor of the exhibit able to learn about El-Kurru and the Kushite religion from the canvases across the walls, but they are then able to interact with the topic they have just been immersed in.

Come check out the exhibit for yourself! It will be on display through March 29th, 2020.

And say hello to the man at the front desk!






Ruth is studying architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. She enjoys reading, drawing, and singing when no one's around to hear her.

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