Magnum Foundation


Notes from the Field, Rena Effendi




Recently I went to see the Damien Hierst exhibition at Tate Modern in London. There it was, the world’s most illustrious piece of art – a skull cast in platinum and set in diamonds. I waited in line to enter a dark cubicle specially built for it. Only six people were allowed to enter at a time. This way you could spend some quality time with the skull, intimately, in the dark. I watched it glow inside its box with its infinite reflections on the glass walls, eerie sparkling object with a missing tooth. Then I noticed the most interesting part of the installation - the facial expressions of the other five onlookers. Diamonds cast off light that reflected in their eyes giving them a special glow, a mixed look of awe and greed. They looked like actors from an old black and white Disney movie, pirates who had just discovered treasure and couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. I probably looked the same way.

In Sohag, Upper Egypt, I visited the Monastery of Great Martyrs of Akhmeem. There it was again, this time a female skull, dating back to 284 A.D. adorned with a crown of fake diamonds, but believed to have special healing powers, skin and hair intact and inspiring awe in thousands of Copts visiting the site. “The saints are bleeding to this day and the women’s hair is still growing, we even have to trim it. When the pope took one of the Saint heads in his hands, the head glowed. They are blessed!” - the keeper of the monastery tells the tale.

Monastery of Martyrs in Akhmeem became a place of pilgrimage for many Copts, as they believe attending the relics of the saints can miraculously cure ailments with divine power. These relics are of persecuted and tortured Copts dating back to the period of Emperor Diocletian and his colleague Maximian, 284 A.D. Sohag, Egypt.

May 2012

Simone Salvo