Ancient Nubia Now, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is a game-changer. The exhibition, on view through January, may even make you rethink how we all got here.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, a film or an album or an exhibition comes along that overturns your previously solid perspective on a subject. Such is the case with Ancient Nubia Now, at the MFA in Boston through Jan. 20, 2020.
This is Africa like you have never seen it and, arguably, like it has never been presented before in a major American museum. This is the majestic Africa, the ancient and evolved civilization that predates Western civilization and runs parallel with Egyptian civilization. Not subjugated Africa but powerful Africa.
I confess that my familiarity with the word “Nubian” derives from George Clinton’s “Nubian Nut” off his second solo album You Shoudn’t-Nuf Bit Fish (1983). This is, admittedly, a less than scholarly way to approach the majesty of Nubian civilization, but Clinton does seem to be opening the door for further exploration thereof, opening his funk jam with the words, “Let me tell you a little story about King Nut / The natives call him the Nubian Tut / Out of 1407 he came to be somewhere around 2000 B.C. / Well the natives clap for the Nubian sap / Then sit back and listen to the King Nut’s rap…”
Ancient Nubia Now may overturn the conceptions of world history of many visitors to the MFA simply because it shows that the roots of what we call Western Civilization did not get planted exclusively in Egypt or Greece or Rome. They were planted in Nubia, a swath of mostly desert land encompassing much of today’s Sudan and parts of Ethiopia. While Europeans were still crawling through the bogs and living in caves. Nubia was the center of a fully developed civilization on the level of any that exited during that same time period, including the Egyptian. The first solid evidence of Nubian civilization dates to 2500 BC, when it was centered at the city of Kerma, one of the earliest settlements in the Lower Nile River Valley.
This is Africa like you have never seen it and, arguably, like it has never been presented before in a major American museum.
A second Nubian empire, and elevated civilization, would arise at Kush and attain such power that they conquered Egypt in the 8th century BC and, in fact, became Egypt’s 25th Dynasty. They, in short, kicked some serious Egyptian ass.
So, if Nubia attained such heights of glory, why is so little known about it until now?
That’s part of what Ancient Nubia Now addresses and redresses. (Hint: The racism of Western archaeologists and Egyptian propaganda both played roles). But it also assembles enough original artifacts that supplant the need for thousands of words of wall text.