I’m not quite sure what hooks me to ancient sites and museums when I step into such sites. It almost gives me a trance. Maybe it’s this realisation that I am testing the limits of my capacity to abosorb what history in its enteirity has to offer. Wherever it is, Kajuraho or Polonnaruwa or this time, the Museumisel which is the closest I’ve been to the anceint history of the Mid-West, I’m carried away in a torrent of sensations I haven’t yet found a proper way to capture or record to recall later. Simply put, it gives me a high.
Pergamon Museum confused me as much as it did astound me. It houses a collection from Turkey. Life size reconstructions of Pergamon Altar and Market complex. How is it possible to transport a chunk of history across the globe to a European city? Is it ethical? If Polonnaruwa was taken away from me and put in a Museum in London, how would I feel? Perhaps, one might say, it would be better off there; better preserved and all. But how could you strip a site out of context?
Pergamon was an ancient Greek city in 2nd century BC, now modern Turkey. The audio guide informed me the Pergamon Altar depicting the Battle of the Gods and Gaints and the market complex are masterpieces of Hellenistic Art and Architecture. I haven’t done Greece, so I don’t have a comparison to draw but the stuff is breathtaking. My colleague Sunil tells me that the best bronze Tara found in Sri Lanka is in London. And he feels it’s better off there. I’m not against sharing my heritage with the world…indeed, it is not merely mine. And as long as it is in a place and serves to bring people together than to provide them with narratives to justify wars, I’m happy. However, I want history to belong to the community, to the ordinary people. Not only to those who can afford high culture. And that’s the sad part about Colonial archeology. As much as it did open a door closed in pre-modern colonies to their history, something the colonies would have taken ages to discover themselves perhaps, it also stripped them from easy access to them. I could afford the 8 euros, and since I belong to the ‘professionally privileged’ category that gives me the freedom to move between places like Berlin and Galen-bindunu-wewa, for all the official reasons in the world, I could afford it. But if I am a poor Turkish sheperd -boy living in the vicinity of Bergama or ancient Pergamon, would I be able to see it?
Athena in a flowing garment. Below, the bust of a youth that I cannot recall the name of
Tablets with Greek lettering.
And a striking figurehead…
The next wing of the Pergamon museum took me to Uruk, Babylonia. This is called the Ishtar Gate.
On stone tablets…
The Altes Museum had a breathtaking array of sculptors, easily the best collection I have seen in my life. The life-like men and women, with supple arms and taught bellies spoke of eternal youth.
I have more, of course, but perhaps, this is enough for the day! 🙂