April 16, 2003
Gothic News: Sumerian Harp Ritual On Washington Mall

(Gothic News Service, 04/16) They gather daily now, in contingents of 81,
dressed in black gowns ­ each bearing 9 thin vertical gold stripes - gold
caps and veils over half of their white chalked faces, each with a thick,
black greased arc under the one exposed left eye. On the Washington Mall,
between high noon and six oıclock, in neatly defined rows and columns ­ 9
across and 9 deep ­ the figures move in a silent, uniform procession,
walking in diagonals across the Mall from one Museum to the next, starting
from the National Gallery of Art, moving back and forth to the National Air
& Space Museum, American History, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery,
Natural History, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, American History, and the US
Holocaust Memorial Museum. The procession stops momentarily at the porch or
entrance of each Museum, makes a slight, speechless bow, before turning
around in unison to slowly proceed across the grass to the next one, moving
from one end of the Mall to the other, turning around at the Holocaust
Museum, and retracing its steps to again momentarily bow before each Museum.

For many on-lookers, most of whom join the apparent ritual out of sympathy
or curiosity, the meaning of the procession becomes more clear when they
notice a discrete image of a golden harp that is sewn into the upper sleeve
of each gown. "Sumeria, National Museum, Iraq, the solid gold harp, 3500 BC,
stolen or smashed to pieces," several whisper. "Nine strings on the harp,
nine gold stripes on the gowns, nine lines in procession. Itıs a mourning, a

"The oldest song - a ballad - in the world," one kind scholarly man offered,
"was probably first played on the Sumerian harp. The tone of each string was
connected to the movement and mythical powers of the moon, the planets and
the stars. This stolen or destroyed harp is at the origin of all western
music." Like a bunch of ancient Greeks, the mourners stay mute, as if ­
with the exception of the procession's color and movement - yet unable to
rise above the trauma of cultural loss.

A few if the on-lookers were less kind. "Get over it," one young person
yelled from the Holocaust Museum entrance. "Fragmentation defined the
Twentieth century and its going to define this one and probably the next.
The job of the artist and poet is to pick up the rubble and either weld it
into something beautiful or frame and enjoy the resonance of pieces in the
ruin." After pausing for a moment ­ probably because many listening were
shocked ­ he added, "And donıt you worry, if American generals and soldiers
permitted it in Iraq, if itıs in the Governmentıs interest, they can do the
same thing here. The barbarians are always at the gates."

Not everybody bought into his paranoid vision ­ which was followed by a
demonic laugh - but it provided a curious juxtaposition to todayıs
procession on the Mall. This week itıs been reported that several similar
mute processions have formed in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Athens,
Istanbul, Cairo, and Damascus ­ each of them representing the destroyed or
stolen treasures of Arts and Letters from Baghdadıs Museums and Libraries.

(c) Gothics News Service
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Posted by Brian Stefans at April 16, 2003 10:42 PM | TrackBack