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Si le Nez de Cleopatre: An Art Exhibit Examining Re-Written History

February 16, 2020

“What is history and what is our perception of it?” was one of the questions multi-disciplinary conceptual artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos asked herself when approaching the topic of her latest exhibition ‘Si le nez De Cleopatre’, currently on display at cultural hub Darb1718.  

Walking into the avant-garde exhibition space, one will be greeted by a wall of plastic surgery notes, a sea of noses, and a faceless Cleopatra sculpture, among other such artworks – all of which are dispersed throughout the space in a way that wholly complement each other. 

In her latest exhibition, Kosmatopoulos uses the famed ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra as a metaphor for the practice of re-writing and correcting of history throughout various eras and generations. According to the artist’s statement as to why this particular queen was chosen as a representation of this notion, it is due to the fact that, “[Cleopatra’s] image has been defaced and ‘refaced’ in Western collective imagery.”

Kosmatopoulos’ sculpture of a faceless Cleopatra

“Every era has its own Cleopatra,” comments Kosmatopoulos in regards to the idea that this famous ancient Egyptian queen’s image has been constantly altered and re-shaped to fit different eras. The artist goes on to explain that in the 17th century, for example, Cleopatra was described as a voluptuous woman and her feminine qualities were defined and highlighted, whereas nowadays a more ‘strong and feminist’ image of her is portrayed. 

Collectively, every artwork included in this exhibition brings into question who the people who seem to be writing history are. In the past, there were a limited number of people who would have qualified for a task such as this “nowadays, history is written by the mass rather than a few elite,” Kosmatopoulos goes on to say. This is in large part as a result of social media and the post-internet age we currently live in. 

A particular standout piece for the artist herself is a collection of three banners which include text written about Cleopatra that Kosmatopoulos edited. “I changed some words to change the meaning of the text – I changed her to how I wanted to see her,” says Kosmatopoulos.

One of the three banners that showcase text about Cleopatra that Kosmatopoulos edited

Following rigorous research into the subject and when looking back at various texts written about Cleopatra throughout history, Kosmatopoulos came to find a fine line between propaganda and objectivity. For instance, the Romans wrote the earliest text available in regards to the Egyptian queen and she was depicted rather negatively. And the way in which the queen has been depicted and written about has constantly changed and evolved over the years – in addition to having her image fictionalized to embody the West’s view of the ‘exotic other’, which is especially evident through her depiction in Hollywood films. 

In regards as to why the artist chose to focus on Cleopatra’s nose as a main subject matter throughout her artworks, Kosmatopoulos uses the nose as way to convey the reality of how the queen looked in comparison as to how we, as a people, generally choose see her. 

Cleopatra was known for having a slightly big nose and the reality of how she looked – which can be found depicted on old coins, for example – can be rather disappointing when compared to the way the general public would rather envision her. In a series of posters, in which images of Cleopatra are blown up from old coins, Kosmatopoulos got three plastic surgeons from Italy, Egypt and Greece to make notes of the ways in which they would ‘correct’ her look through various plastic surgery procedures. 

Posters of images of Cleopatra with notes on suggested plastic surgery procedures

Through this exhibition, Kosmatopoulos hopes to raise awareness around the idea of thinking further beyond what we think we know to be a reality. She feels as though it is important to question what we know, not in the sense that we would claim a piece of information to be good or bad, but in the sense that we would try to seek some kind of a truth. 

Through a diligent artistic process – including a multitude of collaborative efforts from various people and entities such as Jamel Oubechou and Marine Debliquis from the French Institute, Yasmine Hussein who is the director of Darb1718 and artist Moataz Nasreldin who is the founder of Darb1718 – Kosmatopoulos manages to shine light on a wonderful social topic that is perfectly fitting with the over-flow of information we are exposed to in our current day and age.

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