Saturday, 3 March 2018

Recycling frogs, a hippo, beautiful buttocks, Livia and a floral astronomer

Not quite the behaviour one might expect from the Public Astronomer

The venerable - and marvellous - Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology's Objects of Desire showcase has become not just a fixture in the calendar for the museum itself, but has long been a pivot for the LGBT History Month events in Camden and Islington. As, due to a variety of circumstances, this year's LGBTHM events were somewhat reduced in number, it was (for me anyway) the highlight. Indeed it was the only event I attended in the whole of last month.

Opening proceedings with his usual aplomb, our host and expert on all things Ancient Egyptian (especially the smutty bits) John J Johnson was as proud as punch to preside over one of the most successful of the Petrie events - in the fifth year it has been running.

Our first guest was a real charmer, the florally-clad Breton fashion designer Florent Bidois - who, from his blurb: "only works from recycling old materials and everything in our daily consumption (plastic/potato bags, bubble wrap, etc.) and tries to create beautiful from ugliness in a continuous fight against waste".

The ancient object from the vaults of the museum that had caught his eye was a tiny (and admittedly rather phallic) frog (of indeterminate provenance). M Bidois has a "bit of a thing" for frogs, not least, as he joked, because it is the common British slang for the French; he often incorporates their image into his designs, and indeed, the jacket he wore for the evening was constructed in a water-lily pad design.

JJJ led the conversation into a discussion of Florent's myriad outré constructions, his fashion shows, his regular appearances - modelling his own clothing range - around the trendy Spitalfields Market, and his friendship with that other remarkably distinctive fashionista (and fave here at Dolores Delargo Towers) Sue Kreizman (who happened to be in the audience for the evening). Check out his YouTube channel if you need some inspiration...

Next to the "interrogation chair" was David Bullen, researcher into "the representation of gender and sexuality in adaptations of Greek myth more generally, particularly in popular media such as Hollywood film, children's literature, and comic-books." He is also director of the By Jove! Theatre Company, whose productions have included works based on Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides.

His chosen object form the Egyptian collection, however, was a delightful pink hippopotamus amulet purchased by Flinders Petrie at Luxor - a representation of the creature whose form was taken by Horus and Set during one of their aeons-long epic battles. Which led JJJ quite neatly to everyone's favourite gay piece from the museum's collection, the fabled "world's oldest gay chat-up line", a 4000-year-old graphic depiction of gay sex being used as a method of gaining dominance in power as well as bed...

Of course, these tales of ancient battles between gods inevitably ignored the role played in society by women, and the discussion continued with a exploration of how By Jove! take a different approach to all their productions, in many cases reversing the emphasis of the original historical text and, instead, telling the tale largely from the female protagonist's point of view.

Speaking of powerful female imagery, our next guest to the hot-seat was self-described "theatre maker" Anne Langford, whose chosen object was a remarkable one indeed - a tiny alabaster pot found buried under Queen Hatshepshut's temple at Deir-el-Bahri, which still had traces of a resin-based (presumed) cosmetic preserved within it!

No discussion on Ancient Egypt during LGBT History Month would be complete, of course, without exploring the fascinating world of the pioneering, cross-dressing Hatshepshut, the first woman not to merely be content to rule as Queen, but who had herself crowned Pharaoh. Her elegant transformation, and the subsequent attempted erasure of her from the historical records by her (male) successors is in itself a fascinating tale... it was for our final interviewee, Dr Douglas McNaughton, historian and theorist of broadcast media, who also chose a Deir-el-Bahri find - a ceremonial axe-head with Hatshepshut's inscription.

He, too, has an endless fascination with the portrayal of strong women-in-power, as they are depicted on screen - and gave us a very good explanation of why, from his observation, such magnificent females as Sian Phillips' Livia and the rest of those scheming queens (the insatiable and devious Messalina, the stoic Antonia, the murderous Agrippina, the doomed Livilla, and so on) as portrayed in the classic 1976 BBC series I, Claudius (as well as other small-screen leading ladies of the time) came to prominence during the 70s in particular.

Due to the constraints upon its budgets faced by the Beeb in that strike-addled, debt-ridden time in British history, even an epic dramatised history of Rome had to be shot largely within one small studio set. Thus, whole chapters of Robert Graves' original books (featuring large-scale battles, parades, the building of monumental architecture and the like) had to be cut out of the final TV adaptation, leaving the more "domestic" personal intrigues of the despotic Caesars and their families to take centre stage - and many of those "domestic" stories were inevitably dominated by the ambitions of the females of the clan...

This was a thought-provoking and very entertaining evening, as ever - and was suitably topped-off when many of the participants and several members of the audience (me and Jim, and his work chums, included - as well as the Public Astronomer Marek Kukula, as featured in our opening picture alongside fellow mischief-maker, curator Helen Pike) traipsed back-stage to continue our sterling work in polishing-off the evening's complimentary wine.

I love the Petrie Museum..!


  1. in which of these pix do YOU appear?
    Florent Bidois is MY fave! such a cutie!

    1. Mine are the "beautiful buttocks", just off-camera... Jx

      PS yes, Florent is as "cute as a button".

  2. What a fun and fantastic event! Educational, Informative, and Entertaining!

    I love Hatshepshut! She was amazing! And her Temple is my favorite out all the Egyptian Monuments! What a spectacular and stunning architectural, artistic masterpiece!

    Pink hippos are cool!

    1. Oh, I do agree - her temple at Deir-el-Bahri is one of the most impressive and dramatic buildings I have ever visited in my life. Jx


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