[artinfo] The Other Nefertiti

nettime's avid printer nettime at kein.org
Tue Feb 23 12:49:06 CET 2016

Last October, two artists entered the Neues Museum in Berlin,
where they clandestinely scanned the bust of Queen Nefertiti,
the state museum's prized gem. Three months later, they
released the collected 3D dataset online as a torrent
providing completely free access under public domain to the one object
in the museum's collection off-limits to photographers. Anyone may
download and remix the information now; the artists themselves used it
to create a 3D-printed, one-to-one polymer resin model they claim is
the most precise replica of the bust ever made, with just micrometer
variations. That bust now resides permanently in the American
University of Cairo as a stand-in for the original, 3,300-year-old
work that was removed from its country of origin shortly after its
discovery in 1912 by German archaeologists in Amarna.

The project, called "The Other Nefertiti," is the work of
German-Iraqi artist Nora Al-Badri and German artist Jan Nikolai
Nelles, who consider their actions an artistic intervention to make
cultural objects publicly available to all. For years, Germany and
Egypt have hotly disputed the rightful location of the stucco-coated,
limestone Queen, with Egyptian officials claiming that she left the
country illegally and demanding the Neues Museum return her. With this
controversy of ownership in mind, Al-Badri and Nelles also want, more
broadly, for museums to reassess their collections with a critical eye
and consider how they present the narratives of objects from other
cultures they own as a result of colonial histories.


Nelles leaked the information at Europe's largest hacker conference,
the annual Chaos Communication Congress. Within 24 hours, at least
1,000 people had already downloaded the torrent from the original
seed, and many of them became seeders as well. Since then, the pair
has also received requests from Egyptian universities asking to use
the information for academic purposes and even businesses wondering if
they may use it to create souvenirs. Nefertiti's bust is one of the
most copied works from Ancient Egypt - aside from those with illicit
intents, others have used photogrammetry to reconstruct it - and
its allure and high-profile presence make it a particularly charged
work to engage with in discussions of ownership and institutional
representations of artifacts.

"The head of Nefertiti represents all the other millions of stolen and
looted artifacts all over the world currently happening, for example, in
Syria, Iraq, and in Egypt," Al-Badri said. "Archaeological artifacts as
a cultural memory originate for the most part from the Global South;
however, a vast number of important objects can be found in Western
museums and private collections. We should face the fact that the
colonial structures continue to exist today and still produce their
inherent symbolic struggles."



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