In ancient Egypt, a tomb was not simply a place for the burial of remains, but rather the site of quite literal rebirth. Here, the individual’s soul was born again, into the afterlife. But surprisingly, the ancient Egyptians believed that to make this rebirth possible for a woman, it was necessary that she briefly turn into a man, in order to conceive the fetus of her reborn self. Guided by new research inspired in part by feminist scholarship, our collection exhibition A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt explores how this process was thought to take place.
This figurine’s elaborate wig and skin-tight garment would have been seen as erotic in ancient Egypt and connected to the sexual union necessary for birth and rebirth. Both men and women would even wear wigs during sex. The size and two different textures of her wig, would have been considered especially elaborate and therefore had additional connotations of beauty and sexual appeal.
Statuette of a Woman, ca. 1390-1353 B.C.E. Wood, 10 1/16 x 2 ¾ x 1 7/8 in. (25.6 x 7 x 4.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 54.29.