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  • Camille Basso

Egypt bans Dutch archaeologists following offensive exhibition

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

In recent years, the notion of representation - and the importance we attach to it - has become omnipresent in our societies. This is what archaeologists at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands, discovered following an exhibition on Egypt.

Photograph of a woman from behind observing an object from the Kemet exhibition at the Leiden Museum.
Work I am Hip Hop presented in the exhibition "Kemet", Leiden Museum

At the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the exhibition "Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul & Funk" explores how ancient Egypt and Nubia have inspired artists of African descent throughout the ages. The presentation of Egyptian objects, album covers, recent video clips and music highlights the power that these two countries have conferred on these artists. At least, that's what the Leiden museum website says. For their part, the Egyptian authorities found the exhibition offensive in its depiction of their history. What's more, the Egyptian-Dutch curator Daniel Soliman pointed out that Egypt does not appreciate being regularly associated with other, dissimilar African cultures.

The Foreign Missions Board of the Egyptian Antiquities Service accused the Leiden museum of "falsifying history" and having an overly "Afrocentric" vision. Indeed, the Egyptian authorities were quick to condemn the archaeologists behind the exhibition, banning them from one of the country's largest excavation sites. Saqqarah, a vast burial ground 32 km from Cairo, is the site of one of Egypt's oldest pyramids, that of Djoser. In fact, the Leiden Museum has been researching the site for over 40 years.

"The Leiden National Museum of Antiquities has been working on Saqqara since 1975," the institution's director, Wim Weijland, told CNN. "For the next season, we have been denied permission to excavate the site again." The director added that he is trying to open a dialogue with the Egyptian Antiquities Service, in order to reverse the ban. According to him, the aim of the Kemet exhibition was to "show and understand the representation of ancient Egypt and the messages conveyed in the music of black artists," but also to "highlight what scientific and Egyptological research can tell us about Egypt and Nubia."

As soon as it opened, however, the exhibition attracted a great deal of criticism. In particular, the Leiden museum received many negative comments and messages on social networks, some expressing dissatisfaction with the depiction of ancient Egyptians as black people. In response to this controversy, the museum added a note on its website providing additional information on the purpose of the exhibition, as well as a warning that offensive or racist comments would be removed.


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