CAIRO: A statue of a sphinx featuring a head with African characteristics has sparked anger in Egypt after it was placed on display at a leading US museum.
The installation, crafted by American artist and activist Lauren Halsey, is on show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York as part of an exhibit that opened in April 2023 and is due to close in October.
Leading Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass described the sculpture as “a distortion of history and a complete falsification.”
“It is a shame that the museum, which is well-versed in the history of Egypt, allowed its trustees to carry out this farce,” he told Arab News.
Mahmoud Darwish, professor of archaeology at Minya University, said: “Unfortunately, there has been no move to address the controversy.”
The 36-year-old Halsey plans to display the artwork at various locations in the US, Darwish added.
Hussein Dakil, an archaeology expert, said the controversy raises questions about the “cloning” of ancient artifacts.
He said the practice violates Egyptian law, but cannot be enforced internationally.
However, Dakil said that international agreements such as the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention could offer a framework for resolving such issues.
“Countries, including Egypt, can demand compliance with the UNESCO convention, offering a potential solution for removing and preventing such replicas,” he said.
This is not the first time that the intersection of contemporary culture and ancient Egyptian artifacts has raised eyebrows.
An exhibition at the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands recently caused a stir by linking hip-hop music with pharaonic coffins and statues, aiming to show the influence of ancient Egypt on artists of African descent.
Photos of Beyonce as Queen Nefertiti and a video of Rihanna dancing in front of the pyramids have also sparked a backlash.
The latest controversy comes on the heels of a Netflix documentary about Cleopatra featuring a dark-skinned actress in the title role.
The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities condemned the casting, saying that Cleopatra was “light-skinned with Greek features,” and criticized the film as an attempt to endorse an “Afrocentric” perspective.