(King Tut, the actual one.)
“Fake News”. “Disinformation”. “Selective Facts”.
What’s reality anyway?
What did the ancient Egyptians look like? A new exhibition at National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands, has sparked controversy by including a contemporary artwork that appears to depict the Pharaoh Tutankhamun as Black.
“Kemet: Egypt in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul and Funk” pairs Egyptian antiquities from the museum’s collection with work inspired by ancient Egyptian culture by created by musicians of the African diaspora, including Miles Davis, Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, and Rihanna.
The National Museum of Antiquities is renowned for its Egyptology collection. This is not some modern art museum pulling this stunt.
It’s one thing when Netflix decides to africanize Cleopatra, but a museum doing this is very consciously blurring the line between fact and fiction in a time when reality is already under siege and quite a few of their patrons have a loose grip on actual history.
“This is a very difficult topic and that is the thing with this exhibition: I think you really have to give it a chance,” Daniel Soliman, museum’s Egyptian and Nubian curator, told The Art Newspaper. “There are Egyptians, or Egyptians in the diaspora, who believe that the pharaonic heritage is exclusively their own. The topic of the imagination of ancient Egypt in music, predominantly from the African diaspora, Black artists in different styles, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, had long been ignored.”
Jazz has nothing to do with ancient Egypt. African-American musical styles did not come out of ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians are extinct. They were not African. And Egypt is currently an Arab country.
Talking about the “imagination of ancient Egypt” is a topic for a bad pop culture studies paper, not something that a museum should be flirting with. But the Tumblr fantasies of 2003 became the academic journals of 2013 and now the formal institutional reality of 2023.