ÄM 53 – a commemoration in public space
This commemoration in public space will seek to memorialize a human being whose true name, like their body, is inaccessible. Egyptologists identified them as Pa-es-tenfi: as a noble, a priest of the deity Amun, and a resident of Karnak, Thebes (today Luxor, Egypt) who lived from 664–332 BCE. Upon arrival in Berlin, this person received a new name and was entered into the acquisitions register of the Berlin State Museums as ÄM 53: Ägyptisches [Egyptian] Museum, position 53. A person became an “object.”
ÄM 53’s body, a so-called “mummy,” was removed from Egypt together with its coffin and brought to Berlin back in the nineteenth century; Jean Henry Benjamin Menu, a Prussian officer also known as Freiherr von Minutoli, had “acquired” it in the course of an “expedition” supported by Friedrich Wilhelm III, Kaiser of Prussia. Minutoli’s passion for antiquity had been key to the establishment of the Egyptian Museum and of Egyptology in general throughout the German-speaking countries. Numerous “objects” Minutoli had shipped to Berlin to form a “collection” are now forever lost after the ship transporting them sank close to its destination of Hamburg; ÄM 53, however, traveled over land to Berlin, a city whose Egyptian Museum proclaims ÄM 53’s coffins to be among the “highlights” of its “collection.” Like ÄM 53’s body, they are now kept in the museum’s Berlin storage depot.
Per ancient Egyptian belief, the body of a deceased person was connected to the other parts of their personality. ÄM 53’s body was in a state of transfiguration after having entered eternity and overcome death, accompanied by a number of precautionary measures that sought to ensure the transition would pass unimpeded: items from the local burial site, funerary goods, the coffins, rituals for the deceased, and the calling of their name, both in memory of their person and as a means of ensuring that they would live on during their “coming forth by day.”
To commemorate ÄM 53 is to memorialize in distorted form; it is an attempt to establish contact and become more familiar with a person who has lost their place of origin, their family, and their gods. A later system of knowledge and classification gave this person a new name and brought them to a new place: acts which in turn distort, throwing us back upon ourselves.
The distorted (and distorting) commemoration will take place in a present that puts its faith in individualization and division. To share, discuss, and together speak names aloud seems more urgent than ever against the backdrop of THAT WHICH MUST BE FORGOTTEN BECAUSE IT IS NOT PERMITTED TO BE.
That which is not permitted to be leads inexorably to self-destruction, but also to the destruction of totalizing certitudes. All that remains is the togetherness of commemoration and solidarity with the dead.
ÄM 53 was a commemorative poster campaign that has been on display in Berlin from December 11 to December 24, 2023, as part of the BLACK LAND, RED LAND - RESTITUTE festival.