Egypt bans Dutch museum from excavations at Saqqara after alleged 'Afrocentric' exhibition

Egypt bans Dutch museum from excavations at Saqqara after alleged 'Afrocentric' exhibition
In April a Dutch museum put on an exhibition celebrating the link between Ancient Egypt and modern black music. Now it finds itself banned from excavating in Egypt.
2 min read
07 June, 2023
The step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, where the RMO have been banned by Egypt for an allegedly "Afrocentric" exhibition [Getty]

Egypt on Tuesday banned a Dutch museum from conducting excavations at a famous archaeological dig due to anger from Cairo at an exhibition currently on display at the museum. 

The National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) at Leiden provoked a social media backlash from Egyptians after hosting an exhibition called ‘Kemet: Egypt in hip hop, jazz, soul & funk’, which celebrates “the significance of ancient Egypt and Nubia in the work of musicians from the African diaspora”.

The exhibition, which began in late April and runs until September, depicts hip hop artist Nas as Pharaoh Tutankhamun, singers Rihanna and Beyonce as Queen Nefertiti and actor/comedian Eddie Murphy as Pharaoh Rameses II, among others.

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However, now the RMO has received an official email from the Egyptian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities, claiming the museum is guilty of “distorting history” due to the alleged “Afrocentric” approach of the exhibition, according to the Dutch newspaper NRC

The RMO, which has been conducting excavations for years at the famous burial site of Saqqara near  Giza, has now been banned from doing so by Egyptian authorities.

RMO director Wim Weijland told NRC that he was saddened by the ban but angered by the accusation of “distorting history”, saying: “The exhibition was created with great care … such accusations should not be made among colleagues in the scientific community”. Weijland further called for the claim to be “retracted”. 

The curator of the exhibition, Daniel Soliman, who is half-Egyptian, thinks the reaction has been so strong due to “surging nationalism and anti-black racism in Egypt”, noting that no one from the Egyptian government even requested to see the exhibition. 

Weijland has invited Egyptian delegates from the Antiquities Ministry to view the exhibition, while they have now given their commission at the excavation at Saqqara to the Egyptian Museum in Turin. 

The backlash against the exhibition coincided with Egyptian anger against the allegedly “Afrocentric” depiction of Cleopatra VII in the Netflix docudrama Queen Cleopatra.