Tears of Isis

Happening and series of three postcards

Polygonal base, 16 toddlers (1–3 years old) painted white, black light


Tears of Isis

Technical basics
A wooden structure modelled on the outlines of the Roman statue The River Nile (first century AD, Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican Museums) constitutes a plinth, on which sixteen toddlers are arranged. They have been painted white. The set is illuminated using black light.

Artistic concept
Tears of Isis was conceived for the exhibition A Fantasy for Allan Kaprow in Cairo, for which twelve artists were invited to address the works of Kaprow. In my preparations I found the following temporal parallels: 1959 – start of construction on the Aswan Dam; 1959 – Allan Kaprow invents the happening; 1971 – completion of the Aswan Dam; 1972–73 – Easy, a happening by Allan Kaprow, for which stones were carried up and downstream in a dried-out riverbed.
Tears of Isis correlates with the depicted context. It alludes to the Aswan Dam, which not only holds back the annual, myth-shroude flooding of the Nile, but also the fertilising substances suspended in its waters, which would otherwise be washed downstream from its upper courses. Due to the technological interference with the environment represented by this dam, most fields downstream from Aswan have to be artificially fertilised and irrigated, which in turn is causing them to become too saline.
To address the flooding of the Nile artistically, I referred to a sculpture from the Vatican Museums. In The River Nile the river is personified as river god and sixteen cupids represent what was traditionally regarded as the ideal height of the Nile floods (sixteen cubits). In dealing with this figural arrangement it seemed relevant to me to address the European prejudices and misjudgements that it embodied and proliferated. When examined more closely, The River Nile is actually little more than a petrified misunderstanding of Roman origin. In Egyptian mythology only the flood (Hapy) was venerated, never the river itself. The title of my work likewise alludes to this misunderstanding. In his description of Greece (X 32,18), the great Pausanias erroneously reports that the tears of Isis were the reason for the flooding of the Nile – an explanation that today’s Egyptologists regard as a Greek fiction.

Description in: Mai Abu ElDahab (ed.): A Fantasy for Allan Kaprow, Antwerpen / Bern 2009.