Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Save Sekhemka

Nevine El-Aref reports on the national and international efforts to stop the sale of a fifth dynasty Sekhemka statue in London

Al-Ahram Weekly

Today, Christie’s auction house is supposed to put on sale the BC 2300 limestone statue of Sekhemka, inspector of scribes in the house of largesse, “one revered before the great god”. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to print it was not known whether or not the international campaign launched to stop the sale of Sekhemka reached its goal. Egypt has taken all legal and diplomatic procedures to stop the sale and to return the ancient Egyptian statue to the homeland.

The statue is 75 cm tall and depicts Sekhemka holding a roll of papyrus on which are listed a number of offerings. His wife Sit-Merit is found sitting at his feet. The statue went into the possession of the Northampton Museum in 1849 after the Ottoman sultan offered it to the museum at the end of the 18th century. Another story holds that the statue was acquired by the second Marquis of Northampton, Spencer Compton, during a trip to Egypt, after which his son offered it to the museum in the 19th century.

A month ago the statue caught the headlines of international newspapers and magazines as the Northampton Museum in London put it on sale at Christie’s in an attempt to fund projects to enhance the cultural assets of the town such as improvements to the museum and Delapre Abbey. Christie’s expects to raise between £4 to 6 million from the sale. This generated much discontent among archaeologists, in the international community and the Museums Association (MA), all of whom asked how a museum could abandon its duty and send an artefact of its treasured collection to auction instead of preserving it.

This week the Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) sent an official letter to the Egyptian Embassy in London, asking the embassy to take all legal procedures to stop the sale of Sekhemka statue. Minister Mamdouh Al-Damati denounced the sale of the statue and told the Weekly that the museum’s decision is “incompatible” with the values and role of museums worldwide, which he said should “spread culture” and not try to earn money. Al-Damati called on the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to stop the sale on the grounds that it goes against the council’s ethics. Meanwhile the MA, the regulatory body for museums across the United Kingdom, warned the Northampton Borough Council and announced in several British newspapers including the Telegraph, that it would review Northampton’s membership if it broke the ethical guidelines by going ahead with the sale.

Chairman of the MA’s ethics committee, David Fleming, told the Northampton Chronicle, “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA’s code of ethics appeals for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.” He went on to say, “At a time when public finances are pressured, it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest... We would urge the council to seek alternative sources of capital funding before undertaking the sale of such an important item with a long history of association with the borough... Without this, the MA cannot endorse the sale.”

The Arts Council of England has also said the sale could jeopardise Northampton Museum’s accreditation status, which would affect its ability to acquire grant funding from various bodies in the future. Members of the Save Skhemka Action Group told the Northampton Chronicle that a “small protest” would be held outside Christie’s on Thursday. Andy Brockman, one of the archaeologists who took part in the campaign, told the Weekly that the UK Museums Association and Arts Council of England both say the sale of Sekhemka is an “unethical” breach of the UK Museums Code of Ethics which will bring Northampton Council into disrepute. The sale, he continued, is also opposed by museum and archaeological professionals who wish to make sure no part of Egypt’s cultural history is sold off.  “Let us hope that all of us would work together and prevent the sale of this wonderful example of Egyptian culture which should be freely protected and enjoyed by all of us.”

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