As the NY Times reports, German artists Nora al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles visited the Neues Museum in Berlin late last year and surreptitiously took a 3-D scan of a 3,000-years-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, which had been removed from Egypt by German archaeologists in 1912. The artists then used a 3-D printer to produce a replica of the bust and, releasing the 3-D scan data on the internet, encouraged others to do the same. It was all an effort to highlight the colonialist history behind the sculpture's presence in a German museum. From the article:
The artists’ project, “The Other Nefertiti,” confronts what they see as cultural theft and persisting colonialist notions of national ownership by making the object widely available.
It’s also a potent example of the way 3-D scanning technologies, which are becoming cheaper and more accessible, present cultural institutions with new opportunities, as well as new challenges.
“The Nefertiti stands for millions of stolen and dead objects, which are buried in museums,” Mr. Nelles, said in a recent interview at a cafe in the Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain.
The Nefertiti bust, added Ms. Badri, a German of Iraqi descent, “is special because it is not only an ancient artifact, but also a media icon with its own social power.”
Considered the jewel of Germany’s state museum antiquities collection, the bust adorns posters and billboards throughout this capital. The artists argue that the Neues Museum presents the artifact without sufficient explanation of how it was obtained or of its contentious status.
The original bust, a remarkably well-preserved depiction of the royal wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, was removed from Egypt shortly after its discovery in Amarna, in what is now Minya province, by German archaeologists in 1912. Egyptian authorities say the artifact was taken illegally and have repeatedly called for its repatriation. The German museum representative, Ms. Jöbstl, said “the Egyptian state has never filed a restitution claim.”
Mr. Nelles and Ms. Badri have called for the original Nefertiti bust to be returned to Egypt, with a 3-D-printed version taking its place in Berlin, an example they suggest could be followed in other cultural patrimony disputes, of which the most well known is probably that between the British Museum and Greece over the Elgin marbles.
Image via NY Times: A still from Nora al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles's video “The Other Nefertiti.”