The pyramids of Gizeh. Photo by David McEachan
Archaeology

Colonialist Cosplay

on
2023-06-09

So, last month I wrote about visiting the ICAANE (International Conference on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East) in Copenhagen. One thing I didn’t mention back then was something that stroke me very odd. Apparently, there is an American couple, both Egyptologists, that like to dress in 1920ies style clothes. That’s fine at first, but they also pose in Colonial gear in front of Egyptian heritage. And they came to the ICAANE.

Who are they?

So they are the Darnells. I will not post any pictures from them here as I do not want to ask permission and actually do not want to promote them. But if you search them, you’ll quickly find an Instagram account with questionable images. For example in full colonial gear (pith helmet, khakis, etc.) in front of Egyptian heritage, a former colonialised country. And I get it, some people have some kinks, but really??

There is a very detailed article on New York Post about them, which kind of summarises like this:

And like Akhenaten and Nefertiti — also masters of self-presentation, depicting themselves as luminous twin androgynes — the Drs. Darnell are flashy, fabulous and controversial.

https://nypost.com/2022/11/12/meet-the-sexy-egyptology-scholars-who-dress-like-indiana-jones/

Why I think it is a problem

I do not mind people doing cosplay, on the contrary. But that kind of cosplay is very problematic. I am not the only one who thinks so. In a 2020 article on Hyperallergic, Katherine Blouin, Monica Hanna and Sarah E. Bond wrote about their views on this. They agree.

When I heard that they also visited the ICAANE, a conference about the past of West Asia, so as well formerly colonialised countries, I was a bit shocked. Sure, they do nothing illegal and can’t therefore be excluded from the conference (like others have). But I think we as archaeologists need to say something at least. I tried to tweet about it and although I got many likes from various people, there was also a more heated discussion.

Colonialist Cosplay: What now?

Well nothing really. But in my opinion, we need to distance ourselves from these images. What the Darnells do in their own time is up to them completely. But as someone who likes the ICAANE as a place to meet colleagues from all over the world, I deem it necessary to talk about this and make my view on this absolutely clear. I personally think, that they can’t do their schtick on a conference that represents so many former colonialised countries.

Is this cancel culture? Well I do not think so. It is necessary to talk about things, especially if we do not like them. Sure, everybody has freedom of speech, but so do I and there is also decency and respect to others. In my opinion way more important. Critics that might argue we should not tell people what to wear miss the point completely. I do not want to tell them what to wear, but how to act decent in a multicultural post-colonial environment. Allowing them to act like this is marginalising Colonialism. I can’t do that.

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Sebastian Hageneuer
Germany

Hi! My name is Sebastian. I am an archaeologist, a university lecturer, freelancer, guitarist, and father. You could say I am quiet busy, so I learned to manage my time and energy to build good habits and still have space for myself and my family. Sounds difficult? Read here how I do it. Every Friday.

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