Visual Arts09 Jan 2008 12:20 pm
The Bust of Nefertiti, the most famous work of Egyptian art, and among the most famous images of female beauty in the world, is not located in its country of origin. It is located in Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Germany. This has always been a controversial matter, much like the fact that the famous Elgin Marbles reside in the British Museum in London rather than their original position in the Greek Parthenon. The case of Nefertiti has been a long and odd one: a group of German archaeologists removed the bust from Egypt under false pretenses in 1912, and the Egyptian government has repeatedly attempted to have the bust returned. The first such attempt was made in 1933, when Hermann Goering offered to return the bust to King Fouad I of Egypt in return for a political alliance between Egypt and Nazi Germany. Hitler himself refused to let this happen: “”I know this famous bust. “I have viewed it and marveled at it many times. Nefertiti continually delights me. The bust is a unique masterpiece, an ornament, a true treasure!” The Führer would never let the bust leave Germany.
In the years since the controversy over the bust has died down somewhat, but it was reawakened recently by two Hungarian artists who named themselves “Little Warsaw.” In 2003, the pair conceived of a project that would involve creating a body for Nefertiti and briefly displaying the bust on top of it. Unlike the famous sculpture, however, The Body of Nefertiti would not represent an idealized beauty. As the artists put it in a statement about the work, “The marks time leaves on the woman’s body, her age and lifestyle, and the traces of her pregnancies mean more for Little Warsaw than any further analysis of beauty.” The idealized bust, and the body designed to represent “beauty on far more realistic grounds” made an odd pair. The sculpture of the body itself was first displayed at the Venice Biennial, and then briefly put on display in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum with the bust placed on top of it.
The Egyptian government was furious. They declared that the project demonstrated the museum’s inability to properly care for this masterpiece of human achievement and restated their demands that the sculpture be returned to Cairo, along with the famous Rosetta Stone (which is currently in Great Britain) and other famous works of Egyptian Antiquity. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, said he wanted the pieces returned by 2012 so that they could be displayed in the new Grand Museum meant to open that year near the great pyramids in Giza. So far, every request has been turned down.
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