Home Arts Dutch exhibit on black culture and ancient Egypt faces backlash on social media

Dutch exhibit on black culture and ancient Egypt faces backlash on social media

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A Dutch museum has sparked social media anger that has spread to Egypt with an exhibit about how ancient Egyptian culture has been seen through the eyes of artists with African roots.

The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands, opened the exhibition Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and Funk (until September 3), to link its collection to black artists’ explorations of ancient Africa – from notions of spirituality, pride and power to eye makeup and costume.

But he unwittingly provoked ire in particular, according to the Independent Egypt newspaper, questions the government of a member of the House of Representatives of Egypt for alleged cultural appropriation and showing artwork depicting a black man as an ancient Egyptian.

A visitor to the exhibition Kemet: Egypt in hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk © Photo: National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

The exhibit coincidentally takes place at the same time as a Netflix show that caused international controversy by portraying Cleopatra as black. In recent weeks, after an outraged comment on the Egyptian History Defenders Facebook group, the Dutch museum saw an influx of one-star Google reviews with comments like “Egypt was never black,” briefly suspending its Facebook page and issued a defence.

Dr Daniel Soliman, curator of the Egyptian and Nubian collection, who is half-Egyptian, says they were aware the subject would be sensitive but the exhibit showed viewpoints often overlooked by the museum world.

“It’s a very difficult subject and that’s the problem with this exhibition: I think you really have to give it a chance,” he says. “There are multiple voices in the exhibit, and maybe some of that nuance is difficult to communicate via a single Facebook post, for example. There are Egyptians, or Egyptians in the diaspora, who believe that the pharaonic heritage belongs exclusively to them.The subject of the imagination of ancient Egypt in the music, mainly from the African diaspora, black artists of different styles, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, had long been ignored.

Using music, videos, interviews and colorful artifacts, the exhibit compares its own pieces such as a wall relief from 640 BC. michael jackson remember the time video.

It depicts debates around cultural appropriation, looting, the shape of the nose in ancient Egyptian statues and more controversially shows a golden statue resembling David Cortes’ Tutankhamun titled i am hip hop. The statue, on loan from the artist, is based on a 1999 Nas album cover depicting the black rapper as an Egyptian statue. This has led to criticism from some Egyptian antiquities experts, such as Abd al-Rahim Rihan, that the museum “portrayed Tutankhamun as black”, which he denies.

Nas album cover I am… © Columbia Records, 1999

Dr. Soliman emphasizes that the exhibition does not take one point of view beyond giving space in a museum for a different set of points of view. “I think ancient Egypt is often presented either through images created in academia or in popular culture or art as being rather monolithic,” he says. “There will have been people who, nowadays, we would have called in Western terminology black people. That doesn’t mean we can put that label on an entire culture that lasted 3,000 years. But this is something that is perhaps difficult to explain to people, especially if certain stereotypes have been perpetuated.

Wim Weijland, director of the National Museum of Antiquities, said in a statement that the museum does not claim that all ancient Egyptians were black. “The exhibition does not have an Afrocentric perspective on ancient Egypt, but speaks critically about certain ideas presented in the music,” he explains. “For example, the exhibit explains that the word Kemet refers to the fertile black soil along the Nile, not the color of the skin. [and] that there is no truth to the conspiracy theory that statues’ noses were cut off in modern times to hide alleged African features.

The museum says it welcomes all perspectives. “It’s very important that Egyptians in Egypt and Egyptians in the Diaspora are included in discussions about ancient Egypt, because there’s no denying that they feel a connection,” says Dr Soliman. “And in fact, we always tried to do that.”

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