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A&E Editorial SCAD

‘Devine Felines’ sparks exploration of duality

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By Kylie Ruffino.

The venom of a snake drips with good and evil. Easily, we recognize serpents as majestic and terrifying; tranquil and chaotic; feminine and masculine; vitality and mortality. The duality of this symbol comes from the well-known verses of the Garden of Eden allowing us to look at a creature so full of balance with awe and fear.

I felt so drawn to this connection, I got it tattooed on my body. SCAD alumni Pat Crump at the Butcher helped define my moment as a student pursuing the arts.

As a young adult in the twenty-first century I find myself center of chaos and harmony: still the greatest forces in society today. To find these symbols, like the snake in Christianity, is what draws me closer to feeling connected to the roar of life. We see it in our politics. We see it in our media. We see it in our everyday lives.

Five hours on a bus led me to a second life changing iconographic symbol of humanity: a feline. What started as an art history enthusiast’s adventure outside Savannah, turned into a curiosity on the power of symbolism.

I want to start off by thanking the wonderful professors, Dr. Patricia Butz and Dr. Rebecca Weldon, who made this trip possible. In honor of Super Museum Sunday, a group of 20 students took a trip to Atlanta by bus to see the wonderful exhibit “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” at the Carlos Museum, with the added bonus of listening to Associate Curator of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum Dr. Yekaterina Barbash speak on her findings in creating the exhibit.

Both small cats – first domesticated in Egypt – and large lions were keenly observed, cherished and reinterpreted by Egyptian mythology. I find the duality in these creatures very similar to that of serpents.

devine felines-carlos-museum-atlanta-georgia

Statuette of a Cat. Egyptian. Third Intermediate Period, 1076-723 BC. Bronze. 2011.31.1 Image courtesy of the Carlos Museum.

The exhibition starts with two sculptures of a lion. One, a head similar to the goddess Wadjet, one of the many goddesses depicted as a lioness often symbolizing fertility and protection. And the second, a lion at rest symbolizing tranquility and confidence. Lions were rare in southern Egypt (which is actually the north), but fueled the imagination of power and maternal instincts, while small cats were the daily protectors and the personification of truth. Both, relate to the energy of the sun.

The explorations of Dr. Barbash as she went through each of the pieces featured in the exhibit and their importance, inspired a new sense of divinity for a creature of confliction, again very similar to the serpent. But in the greatest contradiction of life, the snake and the cat, representing such similar motifs, are actually mortal enemies: a true balance of good and evil.

On the five hour bus ride back to Savannah – and through the drifting of consciousness and dreams – I meditated on what these symbols bring to me and society. Today, we are a society plagued by polarization, but maybe it all boils down to this: a battle between the snake and the lion. Are either a greater symbol of humanity? Or are they really just the true balance of contradiction? Early Christianity and Ancient Egypt placed cultural importance on such symbols; maybe it’s time to learn from our history and find the beauty in being one with our differences.

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