An exhibition in the Netherlands, deemed “Afrocentric”, is controversial in Egypt

The Egyptian collections of the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO), in Leiden (Netherlands).

A storm from Egypt has hit the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the director and staff of this Dutch center of archeology are barely recovering. In question, the exhibition “Kemet” literally “the black earth”, the name that the ancient Egyptians gave to their country – which opened its doors at the end of April.

Subtitled “Egypt in hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk”, it aims, according to its organizers, to seek “the meaning of ancient Egypt and Nubia in the work of artists from the African diaspora”. Namely, in majority, black American creators embracing, according to the museum, African cultures “to express their spirit of resistance, their desire for autonomy and their spiritual quest”.

Visitors were therefore able to discover, alongside various archaeological treasures, a few portraits: the singer Beyoncé as Nefertiti, the actor Eddy Murphy as Ramses II or the rapper Nas as Tutankhamun. In their careers, Tina Turner and Miles Davis have also captured images of Egyptian civilization.

Dutch archaeologists sanctioned

It did not take more than these reminders to trigger the anger of the Egyptian authorities who, hostile to any assimilation of their historical heritage with black culture, cried out against the falsification of history and “Afrocentrism”, before pronouncing a sanction: Dutch archaeologists will now be denied access to the necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo, where they have been carrying out excavations for five decades. “If you don’t respect our culture and heritage, we won’t cooperate with you until this changes”said archaeologist Abdul Rahim Rihan, leader of the Campaign for the Defense of Egyptian Civilization group.

All without any Egyptian official having seen the exhibition, laments curator Daniel Soliman, one of the organizers of “Kemet”. Wim Weijland, the director of the museum, has, meanwhile, demanded the official withdrawal of the accusations of scientific falsification brought against his institution.

In any case, there is no question for the organizers of reviewing the content of their exhibition and of giving in to criticism motivated, according to them, by a resurgence of nationalism and anti-black racism in Egypt. They at least remain hopeful that their Italian colleagues at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Turin, to whom they have ceded their concession at Saqqara, will be able to continue the work they were doing.

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