by Jocelyn Benavides
I am Jocelyn Benavides, a senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, and participant in the ICA LA’s Agency of Assets initiative. Agency of Assets is designed to expose local youth to arts organizations, their leaders, and the many career opportunities available within the field. My experience in the program culminated with a three week internship at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM). My main role at VPAM has been to explore different aspects of the museum setting that I was not familiar with before I started the internship. I have also been learning about how artworks are managed and introduced to the community through exhibitions and other projects. I became very intrigued to witness all the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done in order to keep the museum running and well-organized.
One exhibition that caught my interest was Passing Through the Underworld: Egyptian Art from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This exhibition first opened on March 20, 2018 and will remain open to the public until December 8, 2018. The goal of the exhibition is to introduce the community to Egyptian art with a focus on myth and funerary practice. The exhibition offers a wide-range of Egyptian art such as objects from tombs, including mummy masks, coffins, and a mummy. Most of the objects on display offer something special for us to learn and observe about ancient Egyptian culture.
A central display case in the exhibition contains statues and funeral equipment, allowing visitors to understand the ancient world of Egypt through the tools and ornaments that Egyptians used for the deceased. As I walked around the exhibition, I read the labels of each object on display and I came across a mummification instrument (pictured above, center right). I wondered about the tool’s function and was drawn to its sharp hook shape. I looked for the object in the museum’s gallery guide and I was shocked to discover that this tool was used to remove pieces of the deceased’s brain through their nostrils! I wanted to learn more about this practice so I decided to do some further research. I learned about the many different organs that were removed from the body through the embalming process. For the brain, the procedure would begin with inserting the mummification instrument into the person’s nostril to reach the cranial cavity. An opening would be made through the skull that would allow the embalmer to drain brain fluid and eventually remove pieces of the brain from the body.
The remarkable coffins on display also caught my interest, and I inquired how all of the materials were composed together to create this piece. I admired the effort and time underwent to produce this coffin, particularly the beautiful illustrations and inscriptions. The base of the coffin conveys a full-length figure, possibly a goddess illustrated through multiple colors and patterns. The lid of the coffins are also well composed and decorated with gold colors and a variety of designs and patterns.
My experience walking through this exhibition allowed me to reflect on the practices, beliefs, and mythology that thrived in ancient Egypt. I left the galleries gaining knowledge and appreciation for a culture different from mine that existed so many years before me. I also learned to appreciate how an exhibition like this can have a meaningful impact in areas that are not typically exposed to cultures from around the world. Growing up in a low-income community without nearby museums or galleries, I was never exposed to artwork from different cultures. My time at VPAM allowed me to realize how important experiences like these can be for an individual and a community. My hope is that more individuals like myself can have the opportunity to visit this exhibition (and other exhibitions) at VPAM to experience an enrichment in different forms of art and history from their community and across the world.
Passing Through the Underworld: Egyptian Art from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art remains on view at the Vincent Price Art Museum through December 8, 2018.
Photos © Museum Associates/LACMA, by Zach Lipp.