Dutch museum’s Egypt excavation ban over black musicians exhibition

The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, has been banned from carrying out archaeological excavations at a significant Egyptian site due to an exhibition exploring ancient Egypt’s influence on black musicians. The Egyptian authorities accused the museum of “falsifying” history through its display featuring artists such as Beyoncé, Nas, and Miles Davis. The museum has labelled the accusations as “unfounded” and expressed disappointment over the ban.

Egyptian officials have yet to comment on the situation. However, last month, local Egyptian media reported that a local antiquities expert was angered by the exhibition, claiming it supported “Afrocentric theory.” This led to an Egyptian MP questioning the government’s actions to “confront the distortion of Egyptian civilization.” The museum also stated that it had received racist or offensive comments on social media since the exhibition’s opening.

This controversy follows recent condemnation by Egyptian authorities of a Netflix docudrama series depicting Queen Cleopatra as a black African, calling it a “falsification of history.” The antiquities ministry insisted that Cleopatra had “Hellenistic (Greek) features,” including “light skin.”

The exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities, titled Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, jazz, soul & funk, aims to demonstrate how Ancient Egypt and Nubia have been “an undeniable source of inspiration for musicians of African descent for over 70 years.” The artists have embraced the ancient cultures and employed the associated motifs “as symbols of resistance, empowerment, and spiritual healing,” the museum explains.

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The exhibition features photographs and music videos showcasing how Beyoncé and Rihanna appeared as Queen Nefertiti; a modern sculpture of Nas based on King Tutankhamun’s famous gold mask; several of Sun Ra’s Egyptian-inspired costumes; and songs by artists ranging from Nina Simone and Fela Kuti to Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. The exhibition also examines scientific research on ancient Egypt and Nubia and discusses how they have been studied from Eurocentric and Afrocentric perspectives.

In a statement on Wednesday, the museum expressed disappointment after receiving an email from a senior Egyptian antiquities official informing them that they were no longer allowed to excavate at the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo, a site they have worked on for almost 50 years. “The Egyptian authorities have every right to terminate a permit for an excavation; after all, it is their land and their heritage. However, the museum considers the underlying argument for this decision incorrect,” the statement said.

The museum added: “The Egyptian authorities conclude that our current exhibition… is about ‘falsifying’ the ancient Egyptian history. This political argument is used to express the dissatisfaction with the exhibition and to ban our excavation.” The museum also expressed surprise that the argument was being made by “people who have not actually seen the exhibition.”

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Lilly Larkin

Lilly is a writer with a diverse international background, having lived in various countries including Thailand. Her unique experiences provide valuable insights and culturally sensitive perspectives in her news reporting. When not writing, Lilly enjoys exploring local art scenes, volunteering for community projects, and connecting with people from different cultures.

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