In addition to displaying our permanent collection, the museum's contemporary galleries also showcase smaller exhibitions. Through June 1, those galleries will feature two of Dayanita Singh's photographic series, including one recently acquired by the Art Institute called Myself Mona Ahmed. The series was inspired by Singh's meeting the outcast eunuch Mona Ahmed (a combination of female and male first names) on assignment in 1989. The two, who became fast friends and remain very close to this day, have together endeavored to think through and explain what it means to be truly unique in the world. “She wanted to tell the story,” writes Singh, “of being neither here nor there, neither male nor female, and finally, neither a eunuch nor someone like me.”
Other artists in the museum's collection have also featured eunuchs, but more often delve into their unique historic positions. Read on for more examples. . .
Both Rembrandt (above) and Sir Edward Burne-Jones (below) depicted the biblical story of an Ethiopian eunuch’s baptism and conversion to Christianity. In the ancient world, eunuchs were trusted at the highest levels of royal courts, as their name translates from Latin as “bedroom guard.”
A eunuch can also be seen in our upcoming exhibition Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor (coming in November!). The drawing below shows Ensor's depiction of Queen Parysatis, whose story is told by Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes. After “winning” the court eunuch from a round of gambling intended to resolve a marriage conflict, Queen Parysatis seeks vengeance on her husband Artaxerxes by having the eunuch, Masabates, flayed alive. Yikes!
—P.D. Young, Production Coordinator, Imaging
Installation shot of Dayanita Singh
Dayanita Singh. When Chaman took Ayesha from me, I could not bear the pain, so I would come to the graveyard to tell my pain to the dead people and my only friend, Dayanita, who liked the old Hindi film songs that I sang for her, from the series Myself Mona Ahmed, 1998, printed 2008. Photography Associates and Contemporary Art Discretionary Funds. Courtesy of Dayanita Singh and Frith Street Gallery.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The Baptism of the Eunuch, 1641. John H. Wrenn Memorial Collection.
Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Saint Philip Baptising the Eunuch, 1853/98. The Charles Deering Collection.