An exhibition at a museum in the Netherlands that depicts Black American singers and other performers, including Beyonce and Rihanna, as the rulers of ancient Egypt has sparked a culture war.
In response to the display at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Egyptian officials have banned Dutch archaeologists from the country, The Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Organizers said the exhibition “Kemet,” which translates as “Black Land,” explores the “significance of ancient Egypt and Nubia in the work of musicians from the African diaspora.” In addition to depicting Beyonce and Rihanna as Queen Nefertiti, it casts American rapper Nas as Tutankhamun and actor Eddie Murphy as Ramesses.
The Times quoted the museum as saying: “In Egyptology, the science that deals with ancient Egypt, Egypt has long been studied primarily as part of the Mediterranean region … but many musicians with African roots emphasize that ancient Egypt is an African culture.”
Hossam Zidan, the archaeology correspondent for Egyptian newspaper Al-Fagr, wrote: “Should they have made it clear that the exhibition is about non-Egyptian, African musicians? This is consistent with history, reality and logic, as they were not and will not be Egyptians.”
The newspaper described the exhibition as “highly provocative” and said it “requires an explanation” in the face of charges that it supports “Afrocentric ideas that try to rob the ancient Egyptian civilization of its people.”
According to The Times, the accusations of “falsifying history” and adopting an “Afrocentric” approach prompted Egypt’s antiquities authorities to ban Dutch archaeologists from the important Saqqara burial ground near Cairo, site of the earliest pyramids.
However, the museum’s director, Wim Weijland, said that no Egyptian official has even visited the exhibition.
“The accusation of falsifying history is inappropriate,” he told the NRC Handelsblad newspaper. “This exhibition has been made with great care. As scientists, you don’t accuse each other like this. I want that qualification to be withdrawn.”
The museum has played an active role in excavations in Sakkara, near Cairo, since 1975 and the ban could affect a major dig there.
Egyptian authorities previously criticized a musician who dressed as Nefertiti at the Coachella Festival in 2018 and sold merchandise inspired by the ancient queen.