Kinship is the act of returning a mummified body of a man to Egypt.
Kinship follows in a line of large-scale projects created by Dorothy Cross over the past three decades, set in extraordinary locations such as epic natural sea pools, vast slate quarries, handball alleys, cathedrals and naval ships. Ghostship, where a decommissioned lightship was painted with phosphorescent paint and glowed in Dublin Bay in 1999. Stabat Mater, by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, was performed in a slate quarry on Valentia Island in 2004.
Most recently Heartship, in 2019, in which a human heart was placed on an Irish naval vessel and sailed up the River Lee in Cork city. It took four years to find a human heart to borrow for the piece. Many hearts are stored in the world’s anatomy departments, but laws now prohibit their use. Finally, a heart was borrowed that had been found in a crypt in Cork City in 1863 and acquired by the British army officer, General Pitt Rivers who later set up a museum in Oxford, where it remains to this day. The heart was ideal – nameless, genderless, and historic – representing us all. Heartship honoured the thousands of hearts that remain drowned on the Mediterranean seabed. The heart was held within an Irish navy ship that had rescued over 18,000 migrants while stationed in the Mediterranean. Music pulsed from the ship and a lone singer, Lisa Hannigan, sang on deck.
Soon after Heartship, Dorothy remembered a story of an Egyptian mummy that had been in University College Cork for decades. She had been told about it years earlier by her aunt who was a pathologist in Cork. The mummy had been stored in the anatomy department where Cross’ uncle lectured to students. It had been placed there before he got the job unbeknownst to him. Remembering this story, it was a natural step to consider returning the mummy and sarcophagus to its homeland; to create an event with music and celebration – an act of kinship.
Originally the desire was to sail the mummy on board a ship from Ireland through the straits of Gibraltar along the Mediterranean to Cairo - with music from both cultures heralding along the way. Kinship would again draw attention to the present-day plight of thousands of migrants, who fleeing their countries, attempt to cross those waters. After consultation with archaeologists, it was decided that the artefacts and body should fly directly from Dublin to Cairo.
Some research was done on the mummy in the 1970s, by Helen Maloney of UCC. It is the body of a man, believed to have died of natural causes in his late 40s or early 50s. He may have been a priest from Thebes. He was not high-ranking. He was not Tutankhamun. He dates from the Ptolemaic period 305 BC – 500 AD. The sarcophagus which contained the mummy dates from 300 years earlier than the body and was originally occupied by a higher-ranking man named Hor, relatives of whom are in the Museum of Egyptology in Turin, Italy. Cross began to research and view the sarcophagus in UCC, helped by custodians there. She believed the mummy was in The National Museum in Dublin undergoing preservation treatment. Before travelling to Dublin to view the mummy, Dorothy approached a restoration expert who is located near her home, on the remote west coast of Ireland, to ask him about the cost of restoring such an ancient mummy. While in the office of the restoration centre, showing a photograph of the sarcophagus, Cross mentioned that the mummy was in Dublin. The director, however, pointed to the ceiling above Dorothy’s head and said, “The mummy is not in Dublin, it is here!” It had been in storage five miles from her house for twelve years!
At this point there was the realisation that the project named Kinship had to happen. With the generous help and cooperation of the authorities involved; the wheels began to turn for the journey of this mummy back to his homeland. In March 2022 the Kinship Group, (Dorothy Cross, John Fitzgerald, Mary Hickson and Maeve-Ann Austen), travelled to Cairo. Aided by Minister Simon Coveney and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador Sean O’Regan of the Irish Embassy in Egypt, we met with the top archaeologists and Egyptologists, notably Dr Mostafa Waziry. He was intrigued by the story of this “Irish” mummy and agreed to have him return, to be housed in The Museum of Egyptology in Cairo.
The essence of this work is the return of the human remains of a man to his homeland. Kinship is this journey but also its documentation, which has already begun. It will be multifaceted, the story told through film, writing, photography, music and exhibition, so that its curiosities and coincidences can continue to inspire.
We are eternally grateful to UCC for their support and faith in Kinship.
– Dorothy Cross, John Fitzgerald, Mary Hickson and Maeve-Ann Austen, December 2022