Ol’ Dirty Osiris.
On the weekend I got to check out the Body Parts: Ancient Egyptian Fragments and Amulets exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It was a small but informative show and, as any good exposition should, led my imagination to extrapolate beyond the displayed objects, contextualized only by their proximity to fellow time-travel relics, into modern culture. I began to ponder how the principles of Ancient Egyptian art, specifically representations of the body and organs, are pertinent in today’s culture and, more specifically, in their current home of Brooklyn, New York.
The show’s focus was on Ancient Egyptian sculptural fragments and amulets created in the form of individual body parts that were worn by the living or placed in mummy wrappings to protect their possessor from harm and as an alternative domicile for the spirit. This got me thinking, can modern objects possess mythical properties? What aesthetic traditions do humans currently place a near-religious faith in and, moreover, invest copious amounts of money to ensure their golden status with such an entity? I exited the exhibition with plenty of take-away questions and walked around the museum half-heartedly reading the captions of famous paintings while trying to come to some satisfactory resolution to my query. As I turned a corner, another patron of the museum walked by wearing a shirt graced with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s mug and seemed to transmit some Shaolin wisdom from beyond the grave: Teeth! Teeth are Western civilization’s current aesthetic fixation of ecclesial dimensions. Millions of dollars are spent annually to ensure that we are accepted among other mere mortals on the basis that our smiles are as divine as the lord above, and that if we are not one of God’s chosen few born piously parallel, we can afford to be orthodontically orthodox.
The obsession is most manifest in the grill which is strongly linked to hip hop culture and made from luxury metals often inlaid with precious stones. As spoken so eloquently by Stockton rapper Dejon “Samraw” Bennett, “I’m a rapper; I have to have a nice mouth if I’m going to say nice words.” Murray Forman, a professor who specializes in popular music and hip hop at Northeastern University believes that grills are symbolic of monetary success which is especially important to the social underclass where hip hop finds its roots. He also posits that they draw attention to the mouth, which reflects the importance of vocal dexterity in the African-American community, referencing the significance of West African oral storytelling traditions and African-American orators.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings, let’s wrap it up by quoting the patron saint of grills himself, Lil Wayne:
“She came to my room thinking it’s Egypt and she leave feeling like a paraplegic.”