Leiden museum barred from Egypt excavations after Kemet exhibition
Egypt has barred the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden from carrying out excavations in the famous Egyptian necropolis Sakkara. The country accused the Dutch museum of “falsifying history” with the “Afrocentric” approach to the RMO exhibition Kemet. Egypt in hip-hop, jazz, soul & funk, NRC reports based on an email sent by the head of Foreign Missions of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
The exhibition looks at “the significance of ancient Egypt and Nubia in the work of artists from the African diaspora.” It opened at the end of April and was quickly met with a flood of negative and sometimes racist responses on social media from Egypt, according to the newspaper. And now the country has banned the RMO from Sakkara, where it’s been active every year since 1975 and is currently leading an excavation with partners.
RMO director Wim Weijland is hurt by the Egyptian authorities’ decision, he told NRC. He is also furious about the accusation that the museum falsified history. “That is inappropriate. We made this exhibition with great care. Scientists don’t accuse each other like that. I, therefore, want that qualification retracted.”
The RMO will formally object to the decision to bar it from Sakkara, Weijland said. “And we have asked our partner, the Egyptian Museum in Turin, to take over our concession. Hopefully, that will succeed, then the work can at least continue.”
The museum has tried to talk to the Egyptian antiquities authorities, Weijland said. “When the commotion broke out, we wrote a letter explaining our exhibition. We know they read it, but they chose not to respond.” The director said the RMO would like to return to Sakkara, but not at any cost. “We are not going to make excuses, and we will not adjust the exhibition. I am willing to add a sign with Egyptian commentary, but then someone has to come and have a look first.”
Curator Daniel Soliman, who worked on the exhibition, is surprised that Egypt responded so strongly without even coming to see the exhibition. “Egypt can handle the excavation as they please because it is their country,” he told NRC. “But their reason for doing this is wrong. No one has come to look at the exhibition, and no one from the Antiquities Service has contacted us about its contents. All the fuss comes from images that have been taken out of context.
Soliman, who is half-Egyptian himself, thinks the reaction to the exhibit is so strong due to surging nationalism and anti-black racism in Egypt. “And, of course, there is the fact that ancient Egypt has often been spoken about without involving contemporary Egyptians, especially from the West. That is still very sensitive.”