Epilogue: Cleopatra in an Age of Racial Profiling

  • Francesca T. Royster


Since Cleopatra always has appeared at the nexus of changing identity, it was fitting that I went to see the Chicago Field Museum’s “Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth” exhibit in early October 2001. It was a few weeks after September 11, at a time when the “we” of the United States was under a heavy burden of self-fashioning. Ambiguous threats of violence still loomed on the horizon. 1 figured that, because of these fears of targeted public buildings and because it was also a Wednesday, the museum would be empty. But it was packed with nervous parents, children, couples and retirees. I had underestimated the fact that, in the same way that shopping became a Bush-sanctioned strategy for the everyday U.S. citizen to combat terrorism, visiting museums, national monuments and other public places under threatened attack gained a patriotic caché in those first weeks after the attacks. When I reached the entrance to the exhibit, I saw a snaking line that went out of the breezeway, past an exhibit of Julie Tamor’s costume designs and into the main hall. Beautiful tapestries of black and gold hung from the front, and several security guards wearing the kind of headphones that Madonna might use in concert were admitting small clusters of people into the packed exhibit hall.


Hate Crime British Museum Racial Profile Field Museum African American Culture 
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  1. 1.
    On this rhetoric of universalism in Treasures of’ Tutankhamun, Melani McAlister writes: Working within the larger discourse of Tut as art, it [the exhibit] linked the trope of archeology-as-rescue to a profoundly nationalist and imperializing sec of assumptions about the role of art collecting and art appreciation in the west. This was not the kind of imperialist condescension that assumed that colonized peoples have produced only “artifacts.” Instead, art universalism, available intermittently at least since the rise of primitivism in the modern period, dramatically widened the category of art and cultivated a sophisticated taste that believed a Guatemalan stele is great art as surely as a European paintin…. The Tut phenomenon, I would argue, participated in the construction of an increasingly “democratized” subject position that was marked by the international and world historic scale of its art appreciation. However, these transformations remained very much within a nationalist model: the great nations are not defined as rhose that produce the greatest art—they are those that collect it. Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945–2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 132–133.Google Scholar
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    Jason Persse, “Long Live the Queen.” Museums Chicago 2.3 (Fall 2001), 58–59.Google Scholar
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    Inderpal Grewal, “Constructing National Subjects: The British Museum and Its Guidebooks.” in With Other Eyes: Looking at Race and Gender in Visual Culture, ed. Lisa Bloom (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 38.Google Scholar

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© Francesca T. Royster 2003

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  • Francesca T. Royster

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