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31. Viewing Erotic Images from Antiquity

In this NSFW blogpost, I discuss sex in ancient history.

This week, I am launching series 2 of Two Friends Talk History with its new format! My guest is Dr Briana King, a good friend and frequent travel companion with whom I discuss sex in the ancient world. Our conversation took many tantalising turns, one of which was the way that erotic objects were presented in the ancient world. You can find the episode here:

Sex in the Ancient World Two Friends Talk History

This week's episode is Sex in the Ancient World where Zofia is joined by Dr Briana King to discuss how we can understand sexuality in antiquity, how people in the ancient world used erotic art in their daily lives, Spartan wedding rituals and more! Join us as we explore this tantalising and sometimes titillating topic together!Find us on InstagramSupport us through Patreon Buy our merch on RedbubbleExplore more resources and topics about the ancient world on ArchaeoArtistMusic by the wonderfully talented Chris Sharples

Effectively, any surface could be decorated with erotic art and the meanings behind it were not limited to arousal. The idea of hanging a phallic wind chime outside your front door, decorating store-fronts with priapic imagery or giving a child the gift of a protective phallus necklace might seem strange now, but the phallocentric worlds experienced in the past were comfortable with nudity to a greater degree and had imbued it with many layers of meaning. Several types of domestic and dedicatory objects that represent the manifest desire for good luck and abundance in the ancient world, have the power to make modern audiences squirm.

The prevalence of erotic imagery in the ancient world was common among the Greeks and Romans, though explored differently. Greek art depicting sexual activity and erotic scenes did feature selectively on painted pottery, with evidence suggesting they were only around for a relatively short period of time. Hermae were large sculptural rectangular plinths with a large phallus on the front, topped with a bust of a god or man, and considered protective. To destroy one was a sacrilege and a real existential threat to the city-state. As Thucydides recounted, just prior to the departure of the Athenian navy to Sicily in 415 BCE, many heads of the hermae were vandalised, and since they were viewed as divine protection from evil (like the evil eye) and placed liberally throughout cities at crossroads, this was viewed as an attack on the wellbeing of the city. Alcibiades was accused by his political rivals and had to flee the city for his life (Thuc.6.27). Cities throughout the Greek world used these phallic symbols of protection which were eventually adopted by the Romans.

Illustration of Aphrodite garlanding a herm of Dionysus based on a terracotta figure from Asia Minor, c.100 BCE. Source: Z. Guertin.

Perhaps even more liberally, stimulating visual symbols populated Roman public spaces, private homes and every type of material culture. Roman good luck symbols include delightful examples of erotic imagery. A whole collection of objects in the Secret Cabinet (Gabinetto Segreto) room in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples purposefully exhibits many of the erotic materials found within Pompeii and Herculaneum together in what was once a forbidden collection, only accessible by the wealthy and connected of the 18th century. The room was opened to the public as a permanent exhibition space in 2000. The collection inside has some truly outstanding examples of frescoes, metal work and sculpture grouped into thematic sections.

Images from the Suburban bath complex apodyterium (changing room). Source: Wikimedia commons.

A large array of painted sexual acts were found in a brothel and bath complex in Pompeii and are now displayed in this exhibition space. The contexts of these images make understanding their viewership important. One can assume that erotic decoration in a brothel could serve as advertisements of services the sexworkers offered, material to get clients in the mood and so on. Whereas, the erotic paintings in the Suburban bath complex were used as decorations for clothing cubbies. Each place to store belongings had a different sex-act which ranged from partnerships of homosexual and heterosexual pairings to multiple partners and positions. It should be noted that the frescoes had been painted over at some point before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, but it is unlikely that they had been covered for that long. The erotic bath complex art would have been for a broader viewership than the similar themed and sized frescoes in the brothel. Both men and women from all social classes used the public baths, though probably at different times of the day in most cases. Visitors to the baths could purchase gratification from sexworkers there as well, but it cannot be assumed that this was the primary purpose of those images. Humour, aid-memoires and many other culturally relevant possibilities could account for decorating a public bath changing room with graphic sexual images (Vout 2013, pp.13-14).

Images from the Lupanar (brothel). Source: Z.Guertin.

Out of doors, urban dwellers used erotic objects to decorate and protect their homes and businesses. A display in the Secret Cabinet of erotic tintinnabula. A tintinnabulum was a wind chime or group of bells, in this case, shaped like an ithyphallic (erect) figure or fascinum meant to represent the divine phallus. The magic phallic image embodies protective powers and curative magic, often worn as a necklace charm, or other portable object. The these wind chimes could take some pretty outrageous forms, more than a simple ithyphallic or priapic (an over-size engorged phallus) theme. I include a photo I took in the museum below, and my super family-friendly illustration.

While visiting this room, I have enjoyed the opportunity to sketch these objects on several occasions, partially because there are so many examples but also to listen to the chat going by while I would draw. My favourite visitors to the room were women in their 70s. They probably had the best jokes and canning themselves with laughter.

The complex and nuanced religious landscape of the ancient world included local, borrowed and transformed gods which influenced daily life and social behaviours (including erotic tastes!). The universally popular goddess, Aphrodite/Venus, was prolific all throughout the Graeco-Roman world with sanctuaries and cult sites in essentially every city. We are familiar with her and the associated attributes of her powers, and included with ‘civilised’ types of eroticism. Whereas, a popular but minor deity, Priapus, was another more rustic erotic god with a uniquely large phallus. In the cannon of Graeco-Roman art, ithyphallic images were associated with uncivilised erotic displays and wildness. Priapus (the son of Hermes, like Pan) was responsible for agricultural fertility, gardens and male genitalia and were some of the only examples of deities who were represented being sexually aroused.

The objects discussed fit into daily life of the ancients. Essentially, anyone with the financial means, could procure these objects and display them or wear them as they chose. There was nothing taboo about art that depicted nudity and eroticism. For modern viewers of these fleshy, vibrantly coloured frescoes and decorative bronzes, they may seem lusty or crude, whereas viewing statuary – even if it depicts violent erotic imagery – is seen as tasteful. This follows our inheritance of Enlightenment thinking that the statues from the ancient world were striped of their original colours, if any remained, to present a white polished version that never really existed. One needs to consider the nudity of statuary within this context of viewership. They too were fleshy, wearing popular fashions and bright colours. Though understood to be sacred representations, they were still incredibly beautiful and could be erotic as well. The famous story of the rape of the Aphrodite statue, the Knidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles, illustrates the incredible arousal these objects could create, when a visitor to the statue was so overtaken he pleasured himself then ended his own life for the shame of his actions (Plin. NH. 36.21-22; Pseudo-Lucian Amores 9-17).

Knidian Aphrodite, Museo nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Inv. 8619. Source: Wikimedia commons.

Images depicting deities could blur the line of object and divine. Did frescoes of sex acts communicate bigger ideas or associations to audiences in the ancient world? Probably. Viewing art is never a passive experience, particularly when it can actively invite erotic responses from viewers!

The illustrations I have created for this episode will be available on my Redbubble shop, and behind the scenes extras including an extended podcast interview and downloadable goodies will be available on Patreon. Thank you for checking out my blog and do have a listen to the podcast episode, Sex in the ancient world! You may never think of the Spartans the same way again!

Tis the Saturnalia season!

Tis the season when we celebrate community and the change of the year! How did the Romans celebrate the end of the year?

The Roman celebration of Saturnalia was held for several days in mid-December to celebrate the passing of seasons, with its roots in the worship of the agricultural god Saturn. Saturn was syncretised with the Greek Kronos as the Romans came to control Greece, becoming increasingly invested in their gods. Saturn is often depicted as an older bearded man holding a scythe, an acknowledgement of his agrarian roots. The temple of Saturn in Rome stood prominently in the forum and is evidenced to this day by eight impressive columns and a partial podium.

From the late Republican period (the last 1oo years or so BCE) the midwinter celebration officially grew from three days to five in the Principate (December 17th to December 23rd). These were just official trends as it’s generally believed that unofficially it was a week, a bit like now depending on your employment. For the Romans work, studies and legal actions came to a halt and people were ready to party!

In Lucian’s Saturnalia, he speaks with the voice of Saturn in dialogue with a priest, observing how the revelries in his name should take place among the Romans: gaming, dancing, song and drinking were all part of the celebration of Saturnalia; it also involved things familiar to us today like decorating homes with greenery and wearing bright and colourful clothing (synthesis), like ugly sweater parties! Lucian’s Saturn is a very reasonable god who lays out three “laws” for gifting, celebrating and banqueting, emphasising fairness in all measures and not being compelled to act or gift beyond your means.

The King of Saturnalia

A king of Saturnalia acted as the ‘Lord of Misrule’ (like Carnivale) in these celebrations. Elected as the mock king, the Saturnalicius princeps, this agent of acceptable chaos in the household would walk the line between being a cheeky chap and straight up humorously (presumably) insulting guests and members of the household. Bear in mind that Roman households could be somewhat larger than ours – the nuclear family at the centre could include grandparents, cousins, adopted family members, children from other marriages, guests and the enslaved household labourers. Many of the societal norms were relaxed and played with in the household, where during this period the enslaved could eat at the head of the table with those who owned them taking a lower status position. Women too could mingle with men (in some circumstances) a little more freely and could hang together and gamble.

The fun frivolity of Saturnalia drinking parties!
Gifts for Saturnalia

Gift-giving was an important part of Saturnalia. Gifts of high value were not necessarily what one would expect, generally the humour of lower cost gifts was appreciated- like trolling a friend with a joke gift. Catullus wrote of receiving epically bad poetry for a gift and it is fun to imagine the kind of hilarious insults he possibly wrote for friends for their gifts, like getting ‘read’ by Oscar Wild but smuttier. Saturnalia gifts could include: sausages, dried fruit, wine, piglets, wax candles (cerei), dolls, toys, books, statues, tools, exotic pets and more!

The live piglet is especially appealing !
The last day of Saturnalia

As all good things must come to an end, so too did the annual revels of the Romans. On the last day of Saturnalia one would give sigillaria – terracotta or wax figurines, shaped in the likeness of familiar deities, mythical figures or easily caricatured types (grotesques). The day itself was called ‘Sigillaria‘; the gift type and gift-giving influenced the day’s name. Much like Boxing Day which one theory suggests may have started (according to the OED) as the first weekday after Christmas when postmen, delivery workers and servants of various types would receive a Christmas box, in which was some type of gift or tip. Possibly due in part to the ways gods were part of the everyday lives of Romans, and worshipped in the home in small devotional figures – the Lares – as guardians of the home, it is not surprising that a popular gift would include their likenesses in inexpensive small gifts, conferring further good luck and protection. For the wealthy, these gifts could be made from costly materials like gold or silver. Given their popularity, someone who crafted and sold this merchandise was called a sigillarius. Vendors were quite busy at this time of year, setting up stalls like the Christmas markets we are familiar with today.

The Lares could be quite varied: a Lar holding a cornucopia from Axatiana, Dionysus and Isis Panthea (all goddess).

The Romans had many festivals throughout the year, and a few days after the wild revels of Saturnalia, they celebrated the sober and solemn Compitalia, another festival in which metaphoric beginnings and endings are associated with the end of the year. Named after compita (crossroads), the recently revelrous enslaved peoples would offer sacrifices on behalf of the households within the neighbourhoods they lived to the Lares of the crossroads. Perhaps it is fitting to have a week of revels which brought families and friends together be followed up with a more sober festival which celebrated the bonds of community. Saying goodbye to the year is always fraught with bittersweet reflections with this year being notable in that regard, as surely in many world-changing years before the communities celebrating these rites would join together to celebrate and pray for better times ahead.

Compitalia fresco from exterior wall of a building in Pompeii, 1st c. CE

Stay safe and thank you for reading!

Io, Saturnalia!

Xox Archaeoartist (Zofia) and Mr Archaeoartist (Chris).

The Cambridge MCA Exhibition: Illustrating Ancient History- bringing the past to life

This week my colleagues, Dr Javier Martinez Jimenez and Sofia Greaves and I were thrilled to launch an exhibition we have been collaborating on for quite some time at the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology: “Illustrating Ancient History: bringing the past to life.” The exhibition is now fully online!

As a way of reconstructing the past in Vita Romana, which I’ve discussed on this blog before, I worked with the specialists on-site whose scientific background in the materials I was representing informed much of the illustration work. Intersecting with the aims of the exhibition, the work done at Roman Aeclanum exemplified the way that collaboration between artists and different archaeological specialists can be translated into artistic work that help the public understand the archaeological site and material culture more contextually. I have recorded a podcast with my co-host, Liam, for Two Friends Talk History which allowed me to discuss the public outreach programme I coordinated and created in Aeclanum.

Listen here :

Archaeological Aeclanum Two Friends Talk History

Sofia’s work brought together ancient spaces with exploration of the layers of building over time through water-colour and mixed media. Sofia and Javier work together on the Impact of the Ancient City project at the University of Cambridge which is a project that has involved a lot of site visits to ancient cities that have inspired her work.

The opening of the exhibition was scaled-down due to Covid safety protocols, with numbers carefully regulated through registration. The exhibition will be in-place until January 30th, and with luck, as many people as possible will be able to explore the museum’s famed collection of plaster statue casts which frame our exhibition images. With these considerations in mind, the museum moved quickly to create a fully online version of the exhibition which you can see here: CHECK IT OUT!

We would love to hear from YOU!

Please take a moment to scan the QR code below with your smartphone for a brief online survey about your experiences with archaeological sites and illustrations. We would like to hear about your experiences!

All data is anonymised and will be used for further research questions related to this exhibit. Surveys also in French and Spanish.

Thank you for checking out my blog! If you are interested in requesting commission art or educational outreach material, you can check out some examples of my work here and please like and subscribe to Two Friends Talk History!

Illustrating Ancient History: Bringing the Past to the Present Exhibition Survey

Do you have 2 minutes for a survey about archaeology & illustrations? We would love to hear from YOU!

As part of the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology exhibition “Illustrating Ancient History”, we have a research questionnaire about the relationship between the public and their archaeological remains! This is relevant to visiting any site from any cultural or historical period.

We would be grateful for your participation & sharing this!

Two Friends Talk History Podcast

Two Friends Talk History is a podcast where public historian, Zofia, chats with scholars, archaeologists, researchers and more to explore fascinating histories, look behind the scenes and ask the big question that’s missing in much academic discourse: so what? Why is this relevant today?

New Friends on Two Friends

Carrying on from season 1 in which Zofia and Liam explored the ancient world through stories and interviews, season 2 invites new friends to Two Friends. Find me on Instagram at Two Friends Talk History and Patreon at ArchaeoArtist.

In this week’s episode, Zofia is joined by archaeobotanist, Alexandra Slucky, who discusses the importance of studying floral remains in archaeological excavations, and how these tiny pieces of the past communicate the connectivity of trade networks and their impact on culture.  Tangents include dysentery in the Middle Ages, the Post-Columbian exchange, rebranding the Silk Road to the vegan-friendly Rhubarb Road, and climate change.Find us on InstagramSupport us through Patreon Buy our merch on RedbubbleExplore more resources and topics about the ancient world on ArchaeoArtistMusic by the wonderfully talented Chris SharplesFollow this link to beautiful botanicals from the 18th century which inspired the episode art. 

Two Friends Talk History Art

I have been challenging myself with creating the mash-ups in my own digital drawing style but, where appropriate, using the historical style the original image was made in. These episode images are available as mugs, tees and postcards on our Two Friends Talk History Redbubble Shop!

Join us on Patreon!

If you would like to support this podcast, receive behind the scenes extras, and get downloadable episode art, additional content (maps, images and related goodies), Hundred Word Histories join my PATREON. You can sign up for a monthly pledge to support the pod all for the cost of a pint! I also post to our INSTAGRAM account to accompany the episodes.

Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and anywhere else you listen to your podcasts. Ratings and reviews are fundamental to gaining any visibility, so please check us out and give us a review!

ArchaeoArtist's Classical Cartoons

To keep my sanity and to take some art breaks during this time, I am making colouring sheets that are free to print, share and enjoy. I will be uploading printable PDFs here, and posting images to my social media pages. Since we are all staying in doors for the good of the realm/humanity, we might as well fill some of that time having some fun and learning about ancient art and archaeology!

Classical Cartoons Vol.1

Classical Cartoons Vol.2

Classical Cartoons Magical Kingdom Vol.3!

Everyone who has grown up on Disney will feel strongly about these characters and how they imagine they can or should be re-imagined. This is a bit of fun and I selected the mash-ups that made the most sense to me.

If you are an educator, practitioner or just curious about these or any of my other work, please feel free to get in touch!

Stay safe at home together!

Thank you for checking out my page!

30. DELOS: THE GREAT PORT CITY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD

Looking out to sea from the courtyard in front of the temple of Isis, Delos.

For anyone who has had to go to Mykonos on their way to Delos, I’m sorry. Mykonos in the modern period has been blessed with Instagrammable vistas, from its white-painted walls with brightly coloured doors, to the overpriced meals, it is every social media influencer’s dream. However, when one is traveling to the nearby island of Delos, a brief stay in the tourist labyrinth awaits.

Thankfully my time in Mykonos, while conducting field work, was brief. To ensure we would be able to catch a ferry crossing to Delos, we planned a day and a half in this little seaside area. With ferry tickets and a frappe in hand, my colleague and travel buddy Ms King and I, set off to the sacred island of Delos!

Disembarking the ferry, the view from the port.

Legendary birthplace of the ancient world’s deadliest twins, Apollo and Artemis, the island was a sacred site well into antiquity. A historically important trade hub for merchants crossing the Aegean, Delos was a crucial point for the exchange of ideas, art, goods and slaves. The island of Delos itself drew many cults from across the ancient world. Of particular interest to me were the several temples to Serapis and Isis located fairly high up the hill. These newcomers to Delos were part of the expanding religious landscape of the island in the Hellenistic period.

Facing the sanctuary of Isis

Delos’ sanctity was ensured during the Peloponnesian wars when under oracular guidance the island was required to divest itself of the dead. That is quite uncommon. As is the case now, communities are very connected to their dead. Disturbing graves and reburying the remains on another island seems extreme. Under the guidance of the Delphic Oracle, and just like Disneyland, all of your prayers could be answered; but you couldn’t die or give birth on Delos any longer.

Various leagues were created and centered here to deal with military and political threats, the Delian league during the Persian Wars, and the Nesiotic League during the wars of the Successors of Alexander the Great. It is at this point, during the 3rd century BCE that the island was in the hands of the Ptolemaic Empire and the influence of the Alexandrian kingdom, and its gods was most pronounced on the island.

With more temples to Egyptian gods in one city anywhere outside of Egypt, save Rome, Delos is an interesting location to try to understand the ways in which religious integration occurs and the role in which the urban landscape is a factor.

Cult statue of Isis, in-situ

In 167/166 BCE Delos’ political fortunes changed with the growing influence and meddling in the Aegean of Rome, the island was handed over to the Athenians, who expelled the Delians. As a Roman free port, Delos benefited from the Italian aggression towards competitor cities, until an enemy of Rome sought to disrupt the Republic’s income by sacking the little holy island full of people making money from slaves. The Mithradatic Wars had two waves of destruction in Delos, coming to a head in 69 BCE.

No longer the safest outpost for ensuring Rome’s transportation of slaves and non-human trade goods, Rome made the southern Italian city of Puteoli the new port-de-jour. With that decline and depopulation Delos turned into a relic.

The temples of Isis and Serapis in Delos are built across several phases and interestingly took different forms while they thrived. One associating itself with a more ‘authentically’ Egyptian-style, and another with a more Hellenic-Alexandrian form, they co-existed though not always in perfect harmony.

It was a perfect day to explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site, and as I continue with my research, it is always an enriching experience to go to these spectacular sites with my research questions in mind. After a decade passing since my last time here, much remained the same, but due to increased interest in the cults of the Egyptian gods and their relationships with Hellenic and Italic deities, the deities I study tend to get highlighted! The archaeology museum was equally worth the trip to see, with excellent mosaics and gorgeous statues.

Thank you for checking out my blog!

Straight up hanging out at the Temple of Isis

29. Heavenly bodies: Aphrodite in Cyprus

This spring, my friend and fellow St. Andrews colleague, Dr Briana King, and I traveled to Greece for fieldwork in our studies. With intersecting interests, Briana and I were able to plan a truly spectacular trip and gain new insights into our own research questions as well as each other’s work. Through careful budgeting and receiving funding through several pathways, we were fortunate to achieve quite a lot in two weeks. We began our fieldwork in Cyprus, to investigate the earliest sanctuary site of Aphrodite!

Mosaic from the House of Aion, Neopaphos

With a long history reaching back into the Neolithic period, Cyprus has seen waves of cultural and political change throughout its recorded history. Annexed in 295/4 BCE by the Ptolemy I Soter (the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty), it remained within their dynastic control for 250 years. Though Cyprus still retained semi-autonomous government with the Boule (council), Demos (popular assembly) and the Gerousia (council of ancient Boomers). This continued until it was annexed by Rome in 58 BCE during the dynastic struggles between Cleopatra VII and her siblings, and settled into Roman hands following the civil war with Octavian and Antony. Cyprus would fall into the hands of several other powers over the next two thousand years (the Arab caliphate, the French and Venetians and the Ottomans), until today where it currently remains divided by Greece and the occupied portion under Turkey.

Cyprus’ place-names have popped into my studies for years came from this island. Unsurprisingly, due to the proximity to Egypt (a straight line to Alexandria) and the political fortunes of Cyprus, there was several connection-points with the Egyptian gods which I hope to explore further in my research.

The goddess of many names: the sanctuary of Aphrodite

Starting in Cyprus was very important to Briana’s research: Paleopafos is the OG Aphrodite cult site where she was worshiped in the form of a black stone (below left). The Sanctuary of Aphrodite, barely visible on the archaeological site, requires some imagination to envisage what it could have been like. Set atop a higher elevation, the site would have commanded an impressive presence on the landscape and awarded visitors with a stunning view out to the sea.

A rose by any other name…

While Hesiod called Aphrodite ‘Cyprus-born’ around the 8th c. BCE, the goddess was not called that in Cypus until the 4th c. BCE. The significance of place-names for her identity can be seen in inscriptions where is called ‘the Golgian or Paphian’ from her sanctuaries at Golgoi and Pafos. A city’s prestige could be significantly enhanced by a notable sanctuary or cult site. You can see below some interesting details about the places or priorities associated with the goddess of Cyprus.

“Kyprogenes- Cyprus born goddess; Potnia Kyprou – the mistress of Cyprus
Akraia – the goddess of promontories; Pontia, Einalia – the marine goddess
Ourania – the heavenly goddess; Pandemos- goddess of all
Egcheios – the goddes with the spear;
Kourotrophos – the goddess patron of infants “

Dedications to Aphrodite include many interesting bird-faced, Picasso-esq clay and limestone figurines.

Figurines found across the island, and spread to other Mediterranean cities, show ongoing development in the iconography of the Great Goddess of Cyprus. Theories range about their uses, whether they are images of early forms of Aphrodite, her priestesses, companions for the dead or talismans for fertility or the afterlife.

She certainly glowed up though.

As Aphrodite’s form changes over time, you get gorgeous examples like the Aphrodite from Soloi (right) which has that sexy contrapposto!

For scholars and history nerds, these places are important and aren’t normally on a tourists’ itinerary. Cyprus is known for its beaches, boardwalks and boating which we briefly explored. Though this isn’t my topic of expertise, it was really cool to experience it with someone who has a passion for Aphrodite scholarship, like mine for Isis!

Downtown Nicosia

With Google taking on a merry-go-round of routes through the hills and ostrich farms, we eventually arrived at Nicosia to visit the archaeological museum. It had a substantial collection of beautiful things

With the archaeological site of Salamis inconveniently closed, we checked out a few other interesting locations in Cyprus! A brief walk along the promenade along the sunny boardwalk in Limassol.

Limassol

What surprised me about Paphos is that it was like a tiny hot British town plunked in the middle of the Mediterranean. Walking around, the signs were in English and I didn’t hear an ounce of Greek being spoken. The archaeological site was worth a wander, but if I was looking for Greek culture and a trip away from the UK, it was eerily like being back in Britain.

Neopaphos & the Tombs of the Kings

Some unexpected surprises along the way included the rental car with no working headlights and the incredible discovery of a late-night delivery of the best souvlaki and Greek salad of my life. With a lot of terrain covered over a weekend, there is still a lot left to explore there and worthy of a solid return trip.

28. Street Art Scene in Vancouver

Vancouver’s street art scene is vibrant and diverse. Check out these inspirational art works decorating my favourite city.

For the last decade I’ve had an eye on the street art scene in Vancouver. Over the last few years, residents will have seen the explosion of vibrant, diverse street art decorating downtown Vancouver, East Van and of course Main Street. Instagram worthy color-pallets provide an interesting juxtaposition between alleyways and brick walls, adding to the many personalities that decorate one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As it gravitates towards comic-style due to the medium and colours used, it always drew my eye.

A pilgrimage to Main Street

Living abroad, I try to make a point when I am back in the city to see what has changed. The changing and growing urban art can be helpfully tracked here. Each summer over the last four years there has been new pieces of art making a cool part of town even more interesting. This isn’t illicit tagging, some of which can be really gorgeous too, but what is making Vancouver’s alleyways more welcoming is this ‘neo-grafitti’.

Main @ 4th and 3rd

“Street art is visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues. Other terms for this type of art include independent public art, post-graffiti, and neo-graffiti, and is closely related to guerrilla art.”

Wikipedia definition on ‘street art’

Walking the Seawall & Main Street

These recent additions to the urban landscape in Vancouver’s Mural Festival would certainly fall into the ‘neo-grafitti’. The city’s cultural invigoration campaign has taken shape on the walls of restaurants, coffee shops, and corporate buildings have become glorious canvases hosting local artwork.

Main street Mermaids

One amusing recurring theme on Main Street is Mermaids and fantastical undersea creatures. Painted on the sides of industrial buildings, old bars and delivery doors,these aren’t your Disney mermaids!

Graffiti Alley, Downtown

Graffiti Alley contains a montage of great art through history and movements, with a collective of artists, Cold World Media, that continue to evolve in the alleyway that feeds into Richards street near Harbour Centre. Started in 2005, this mural spans an enormous length on both sides of the alley. This homage to the highest art and artists was a little beacon of beauty done in a spray paint, an art form now elevated with ever increasing appreciation.

The stratigraphy of art on the brick surfaces all over the city is a kind of archaeology of Vancouver’s urban art. With increasing interest in displaying the personality of each neighborhood community, this civic art showcases local talent through elegant, absurdist and abstract art. Each layer, from one year to the next, there are new murals and older ones slowly are covered with new art. This has become the fate of this homage to artists, much of it is no longer visible.

Vancouver’s painted alleys were part of my art exploration in my twenties, my engagement photoshoot and annual wanderings when back home. I can’t encourage people enough to go wander the streets and explore, and take in all that incredible beauty!

27. Adieu 2019, Bienvenue 2020

The close of a new decade is an inevitably reflective time. The last time the decade turned, I was in my twenties finishing my undergraduate degrees in Vancouver. It feels like a memoir’s worth of writing could barely sum up the last ten years, so I will stick to just one year. 2019 was possibly the most had some of the biggest highs and lows I have gone through in my academic and personal life. Perhaps it is fitting then that at the end of this decade, it was time to go through another life-changing gauntlet of challenges and opportunities.

Travel and Fieldwork

It was a big year for fieldwork. Luckily, that is my reason-d’être for travel. I discovered a few years ago that travelling with a question in your mind makes the whole experience richer and satisfying when you can answer those questions. When I started researching Isis and the Egyptian cults, it became quite consuming and fortunately for me, dispersed throughout most of the Roman Empire. This has been a blessing in most cases, and this year, with one of my dearest friends, we were able to combine forces and research topics to do fieldwork together across much of Greece.

Germany! Mainz and Frankfurt

The Temple of Isis foundations, Mainz.

In January, I popped over to Germany for a weekend to go check out the temple of Isis in Mainz. This site was excavated during the building of a shopping mall, which sits on top of it. A shared temple with Magna Mater, this city had some really great archaeological museums and things to explore. I used to travel alone a lot more, and scooting off for a few days on my own was a lot of fun.

Padua

My recent post about Padua highlighted some of the things that made it a delicious visit to one of my favourite countries, but for me, one really lovely part of the trip was getting to spend time around the kitchen table with the family of a dear friend. I miss that part of family life a lot as an ex-pat. I love spending time with the families of friends, feeling the warmth of their love and bonds of family, even doing normal things like grocery shopping and having a cup of tea.

Greece and Cyprus

Travelling together for a few weeks was a blast and we covered a lot of ground. Laying down groundwork for a future co-publication, hopefully, we learned a lot about each other’s research and where it intersects! Greece is a country that formed mythical impressions in our minds from studying these places over so many years, and getting the opportunity to drive to many sites here together was a dream come true.

With some careful planning and Jedi-level budgeting, Briana and I crushed it: Nicosia, Paphos, Palaepafos, Limassol, Mykonos, Delos, Thessalonike, Philippi, Amphipolis, Vergina, Dion, Volos, Nemea, Mycenae, Corinth, Athens, Epidaurus, Pella, Marathon, Nafplio, Sounion and Eleusis!

With so many beautiful locations, and fascinating material culture, I will definitely be posting some cool snaps and historical tidbits about these places in 2020.

Italy: Roadtripping and the Aeclanum Excavation

Some highlights from adventures in Italy, 2019

For the first time since I started going to Italy to try and learn new skills (excavating or public archaeology), I had the good fortune of jointly renting a car with several friends for the duration of our time there. Liberating and exhilarating would be the best summary of that experience. We were able to finally see some of the surrounding areas of Passo di Mirabella, which are incredibly beautiful. I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with these ladies trying incredible foods, splashing around in creeks, going to ruins and museums and feeling a bit like a kid again!

Launching a graphic novella in Italy!

Vita Romana: at the baths of a Aeclanum was launched this summer in Passo di Mirabella. It was a labour of love that I am super proud of. Completing a project like this was exciting, and working with Ambra Ghiringhelli and Josef Souček- two creative and talented scholars- was so rewarding! With Vita Romana we learned a lot of things about a collaborative creative process, and it would be really cool to work on other stories about Roman daily life!

Professional? Me?

For the first year in my life, making art was a significant component of my earnings. I still make silly fun things ( #ImSorryChris ) for myself, but between small commissions, selling posters, paintings in Mariachi, and my public archaeology work this was my most successful year as an artist!

Our west coast wedding

One fateful day in the summer of 2017 I proposed to my husband, over a beer in front of the Pantheon in Rome. After a week on holiday of trying to find the perfect moment and location, everything went wrong. Comically wrong. After a cringe-worthy number of failed attempts, the end result was after a week of nearly asking Chris to marry me, I just went for it with a spontaneous and slightly rambling proposal.

Two years later we had our big day in Vancouver, surrounded by friends and family in a gorgeous location, we tied the knot. As a testament to how ridiculous I am and how accommodating my husband is, I insisted on sneaking in all sorts of archaeology and classics-themed elements into the wedding.

We were touched and grateful to have family members and friends from all over the world who joined us for the wedding. My new family, from the UK, got to explore the province I love so much.

With hot and sunny weather August weather, the guests were subjected to volcanic heat during the ceremony! It was a truly happy day, and absolutely impossible without the support of my mom, sisters (Alex and Anaise), father and my tribe of women warriors, mothers and friends. It felt like all these hearts and minds got me to where I am today, pursuing the things that I am most passionate about, married to a wonderful, brilliant man who enriches my life while I chase my dreams.

Following the wedding, there was no rest for the wicked with escape rooms to solve, babies to cuddle and some wee excursions to spend some time with my family. In a exciting opportunity to come to the Sunshine Coast by a private sea plane! We were over the moon to be invited to this beautiful area and hang with my super lovely aunts and uncles. Spending time with friends and loved ones this summer was so restorative and the best part of the whole time in Canada.

Upon our triumphant return to the United Kingdom, we had the ultimate penthouse wedding reception with our incredible community of friends, coleagues and family. It was marvellous.

Manchester & Liverpool

Drawing this year to a close, we decided that connecting with some of our friends who made their way up to celebrate at our reception would be the best way to spend some free time (lol, free time) this winter. We had a magic weekend in Manchester with some beloved friends and colleagues I met in 2013 during our Masters! Manchester is unarguably one of the coolest cities in the UK. It’s got the architectural edge and multi-culturalism that reminds me of Vancouver. With a quick afternoon trip to Liverpool to do some research, we got to cross that city off the list as well. It is always such a pleasure spending time with our pals in Manchester.

Belgium

As a little treat for ourselves, Chris and I wanted to spend a week in Belgium. Having visited about two years ago to the day, we were stoked to stay with our lovely friends and colleagues in Leuven. The talented Dr Close (Hellenistic History Instagram) and her lovely partner Stijn.

New Year, Who Dis?

It’s hard to believe all of these things happened within the last 12 months alongside school, work, project work at Aeclanum and so on. Like a last grasp at the hectic-life that used to signal to me that I was working hard enough, if I was too busy to blink, surely it meant I was working as hard as possible. Working hard, but perhaps, not working smart. This year was a kind of awakening. For many years I believed I had some sort of super-human ability to multi-task and problem-solve, whatever else was going on in my life, I could get it done. Whatever ‘it’ was. I would just sleep less, or socialize less, or work during other work…the mind boggles how all this made sense. What I discovered, rather late, was that this balancing act wasn’t balanced at all. It was a very typical high-achiever’s cocktail for burnout. Even projects and activities that gave me great pleasure, if they were not my thesis, then it had to go. Coinciding with moving house, this fall was all about starting anew and positively.

This year I am trying something new and sustainable: in life, in art and school, I will pare everything down to a focused and balanced year ahead.