Saudi Aramco World: January/February 2014 - page 10

Saudi Aramco World
Nearly every Friday for three months, my colleague Jason
Reblando and I would head to the basement of the Oriental
Institute. There we would find ourselves among artifacts of the
ancient Middle East. To our friends hosting us at the museum,
it was nothing to walk swiftly past shelves and cases full of
jewelry, pottery and other objects 5000 or more years old.
Jason and I would walk a little slower, looking longer.
We would eventually make our way to the heavy-objects
storage room to set up for that day’s guests. My job was to
sit with the portrait subjects and interview them on camera
for their reflections on the artifact they had been paired with
and the origins of their chosen occupation. Each week, I
would start the same way, asking the subjects to tell me about
their work and to describe an average day. I would then ask
them what they knew about the artifact next to them. From
there, the questions and answers differed from person to per-
son. Some had gone above and beyond, researching their
artifact and the time period it came from, and putting a lot
of thought into the connections. Other answers were less
thought out, but just as honest.
Both men and women in ancient Egypt were very concerned with their appearance, and they lavished special atten-
tion on grooming. Scenes in private tombs dating to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (ca. 2450–2181
) show men giving manicures and
pedicures. The scenes are accompanied by short texts giving the men’s titles, indicating that they were organized into ranks, from simple
manicurists to managers and supervisors of manicurists.
Shown with:
Limestone relief of a manicurist from the Old Kingdom, Dynasty
, ca. 2430
, tomb 19, Saqqara, Egypt. (75 x 32 x 4 cm /
29½ x 12½ x 1½
) This is a section of a door lintel from the tomb of a man named Kha-bau-Ptah, who gives his title as “overseer of the
palace manicurists.” He is shown seated on a chair, holding a staff that was the mark of an elite man. Kha-bau-Ptah’s tomb, with its stone
portico and expensive decoration, indicates that he was a wealthy man.
“They [the Egyptians]
probably had to look
presentable for other
people, to make them
see who they were.
They knew there were
kings, so they had to
look nice—the same
as today. Even when you have a job, and you go to an interview, you have to look nice. Color makes them feel good. Like when I’m
done, and I put on a color, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, my hands look gorgeous, the color just makes me feel like a new person,’ and
that’s what I see, and that’s what I enjoy—seeing the expressions on their face. Well, first of all, when I heard about [how long there
have been manicurists], I thought it was amazing. It’s amazing because I have always said that back to the earliest times, we always
took care of ourselves. You know, our hair, our skin, so when I saw this piece, I said, ‘It’s still here, it’s just a different way.’”
Gloria Margarita Tovar
is a nail technician at
the Elizabeth Arden
Red Door Salon in
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