Faculty project will highlight political and historical significance of the Nile River

Ancient columns in Hathor's Temple, Dendara.

Courtesy of Jonathan Winnerman

The Getty Foundation is funding a new program to highlight the Nile's significance in ancient studies. The program will take place in Italy, Sudan, and Egypt, and is geared toward early-career scholars of antiquity in Sudan and Egypt.

Anushka Chakrabarti | July 1, 2023

The Getty Foundation approved a grant for a UCLA faculty project, “The Contested Beauty of the Nile: Connecting Early Career Intellectuals in Egypt and Sudan Through the Indigenous Art of Ancient Nilotic Cultures,” led by Kara Cooney and Jonathan Winnerman.

Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture and chair of the Near Eastern languages and cultures department, will work with Winnerman, lecturer in Egyptology and academic administrator for ancient studies in the division of humanities, on the project, which aims to use art and art history to transcend borders. 

“The goal of these programs is to bring different people together — especially young scholars who are interested in shaping the intellectual communities in their respective countries — to create a dialogue, get to know each other and bond through art history,” said Winnerman. “Even if there’s no common language, a lot of times visual culture still permits a form of communication and information transfer. So the idea is that these people will get to know each other, form strong bonds and then, as they rise in their careers, continue to work in whatever kind of intellectual communities they find themselves a part of.”

Cooney added that the Nile is central to many things in the region of focus, and that the project aims to broaden that focus to discussions associated with its purpose and use. 

“Jonathan and I wanted to create a program in which we could use art history’s visual beauty to bring people together, rather than take them apart — but also, we wanted to touch a third rail, and that third rail is a discussion of power in the ancient world and today, and how power and the Nile River intersect,” she said. “And we wanted to do so with a group of young, emerging scholars so that we could talk with people who generationally are more impacted by the ecological imbalance that is occurring in the northeast African region along the Nile River [and] the political implications of the kinds of power dynamics that are happening along the river.”

Cooney and Winnerman are currently reviewing applications for the scholars who will be involved with the project. The scholars are selected from a pool of applicants who have all been recommended by local intellectuals and professors in the region. 

The program will take place in three key locations: Italy, Sudan and Egypt. At each location, the scholars will have the chance to interact with local experts and with the resources offered by historical records and facilities to deepen their understanding and discussions of the subject matter. 

However, due to the war in Sudan, the program will be postponed for a year.

“The people that we’re inviting to participate will all be young intellectuals or young scholars from Egypt and Sudan — so either people that are maybe pursuing a doctorate, or maybe just completed their doctorate, or are pursuing an MA program or might even be within the government service sector,” Winnerman said. 

The project is also in collaboration with Global Antiquity at UCLA, which aims to “bring together scholars and community members from UCLA, the greater Los Angeles area, and around the globe for a new dialogue on the equivalency of past human experiences and the role that the ancient past still plays in shaping all our contemporary identities,” according to its website. 

“Global Antiquity at UCLA is trying to reframe antiquities from the typical white-facing, classical world and look at antiquity from a more diverse perspective, and this is very much a part of that project, because it is equity based — but we also are understanding the way that our modern power structures are built, very much founded, on ancient structures,” added Cooney. 

The project will begin next summer, with possibility for changes given the situation in Sudan.