Archaeologists from the Leiden National Museum of Antiquities in the Netherlands have been barred from carrying out future excavations in the necropolis Saqqara after Egyptian authorities took offense at its depiction of ancient Egypt in the exhibition “Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul & Funk.”
The head of Foreign Missions of the Egyptian Antiquities Service accused the museum in a leaked email of “falsifying history” due to the “Afrocentric” lens of the show’s storytelling, the Dutch news site NRC reported on Monday. The news was confirmed by the museum’s managing director, Wim Weijland, in a statement to CNN.
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Saqqara, a sprawling burial site some 20 miles south of the capital, Cairo, is home to Egypt’s oldest pyramid, the pyramid of Djoser. The museum has been consistently excavating Saqqara for more than 40 years, and most recently returned in February for a monthlong dig.
“The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has been working at Saqqara since 1975,” Weijland told CNN. “For the upcoming season, the museum has been denied the permit to excavate here.”
Weijland added that the museum is attempting to “open the dialogue” with the Egyptian Antiquities Service about the ban. The aim of the “Kemet” exhibition, according to Weijland, was to “show and understand the depiction of ancient Egypt and the messages in music by black artists,” and to “show what scientific, Egyptological research can tell us about ancient Egypt and Nubia.”
The ancient Nubian empire in northeast Africa extended from Aswan, Egypt, down to Khartoum, the modern-day capital of Sudan. Nubia hosted several significant empires, the most important being the Kingdom of Kush, whose so-called “Black Pharaohs” ruled Egypt in the 8th century BCE in the 25th Dynasty. Per the museum’s website, the “Kemet” show examined “the influence of ancient Egypt and Nubia … in the works of a multitude of musicians of African descent, including icons of jazz such as Miles Davis and Sun Ra and contemporary artists such as Beyoncé and Rihanna.”
The show was met with criticism almost immediately upon opening. The Leiden National Museum of Antiquities’ social media accounts were bombarded with negative comments, some of which expressed veiled or explicit distaste over the show’s imagery of dark-skinned ancient Egyptians. In response to the backlash, the museum added a note on its website with additional information on its curatorial goals, as well as a warning that any offensive or racist comments posted to its social channels will be deleted.