A visit to Mesopotamia at the ROM

I visited the Mesopotamia exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum today and right off the top, I will laud it as simply one of the best I’ve seen.

I went mid-day, wandering over at lunch through the muggy heat of Toronto’s recent plume of summer. The cool comfort and the interior darkness enveloped me with calm as the individual artifact exhibits guided my way.

The engagement was immediate, from the first descriptions of trading to the cuneiform tablets to the cylinder seals. Everywhere I looked were crisp and compelling chapters of the narrative, storytelling time and place, and the inherent poetry of the people whose artistry and innovation shaped not only the written word but civilization as we know it.

Around each new corner – and there are many corners, angles, mini-theatres and alcoves to discover – another detail was explained in complement to the last.

What I’d learned 20 years ago in my own undergraduate courses in Ancient Law suddenly came flooding back and my imagination lit up with animated scenes of kingdoms, codes, cities, war, justice and art.

The striding Babylonian lion stopped me dead in my tracks. Though I’d seen it before, it is simply different in this context – so dramatically new and poignant as the mesmerizing centre of one vista.

Many artifacts beckoned heart and mind as well as fingertips; even more so, of course, for being necessarily out of reach. Several tactile opportunities are on offer, however, and I took them all.

I found the final moments of the journey more solemn, but overall I felt divinely wistful.

To me, the mark of a great exhibition is one that evokes a feeling of change in the visitor – a new or enhanced perspective and a sense of being different somehow. I lingered in the philosophical buzz of quiet contemplation; the unmistakable grace of a truly affective museum experience.

If you’re in Toronto, do go.

For more information: http://www.rom.on.ca/en/mesopotamia/home

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