Archeologists from a museum in the Netherlands have been banned by Egyptian authorities from working at a historic dig site for portraying black celebrities — including Eddie Murphy, Rihanna, and Beyoncé — as ancient Egyptian rulers and figures in an exhibition.
The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, recently unveiled an exhibition, titled “Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul & Funk,” which has Egyptian Queen Nefertiti portrayed by both Rihanna and Beyoncé, King Tutankhamun portrayed by American rapper Nas, and Pharaoh Ramesses portrayed by Eddie Murphy. An email reported Monday by Dutch news outlet NRC shows that Egyptian authorities banned a team of the museum’s archeologists from performing excavations at Saqqara — a historic and culturally significant site in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities accused the Dutch museum of “falsifying history” with an “Afrocentric” approach, the Dutch outlet reported.
“The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has been working at Saqqara since 1975,” Wim Weijland, the managing director of the Dutch museum, told CNN. “For the upcoming season, the museum has been denied the permit to excavate here.”
Saqqara, a burial ground just south of Egypt’s capital Cairo, is an important archeological site in Egypt and has been the location of some of the most prominent archeological finds this year. The site has the tombs of the kings of the first, second, and third dynasties, and is the site of the oldest pyramid in the country.
“Ancient Egypt and Nubia have been an undeniable source of inspiration for musicians of African descent for over 70 years,” the exhibition’s translated description reads. “The artists embrace and claim these ancient African cultures to express resistance, empowerment and spiritual healing. They often refer to the name that the Egyptians themselves gave to their country: Kemet, ‘the black,’ a reference to the fertile soil along the Nile.”
Weijland defended the exhibition to CNN, saying its purpose is to “show and understand the depiction of ancient Egypt and the messages in music by black artists” and “show what scientific, Egyptological research can tell us about ancient Egypt and Nubia.”
This is not the first time Egyptian authorities have expressed concern with the way Egyptian historical figures are portrayed. Last month, the Egyptian government accused Netflix of “falsifying Egyptian history” by portraying Cleopatra as a black woman in “African Queens: Queen Cleopatra.” The director of that film, Tina Gharavi, admitted that the choice of Adele James as the Egyptian queen was a “political act.”
“No one with even a little education could make a film showing Cleopatra as black,” Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities, said.
As for the pushback on the “Kemet” exhibition, the Dutch museum is asking Egyptian authorities to reconsider. “The Egyptian authorities have every right to terminate a permit for an excavation; after all, it is their land and their heritage. However, the museum considers the underlying argument for this decision incorrect.”