Written by Kelsey D. Atherton
Nefertiti belongs to the ages. Does her likeness belong to the people? That’s a question for philosophers and museum curators to debate, but thanks to an enterprising group of secretive scanners, it has a practical answer: yes. Using Microsoft Kinect scanners hidden under scarves, Nora Al-Badri, a German-Iraqi artist, and Jan Nikolai Nelles, a German artist, recorded the bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum in Berlin last year. That bust is now available as a 3D rendering that people can download and 3D print.
Queen Nefertiti ruled Egypt with her husband, the pharaoh Akhenaten, during Egypt’s 18th dynasty, around 1350 BC to 1334 BC. Archaeologists search for her tomb to this day. The bust of Nefertiti was found in an ancient sculptor's workshop in Egypt in 1912, and taken to Germany, where it has resided ever since. Here’s what the scan of the bust looks like:
Since the bust’s discovery, it’s become both a symbol and figurehead of tensions in preservation culture and museums. Standards for archaeological work have changed a lot over the past century, and the once-fashionable idea that artifacts needed to be in European museums for safekeeping is now met with calls for returning art and artifacts to their country of origin.
Germany has so far not granted the bust of Nefertiti a right to return home to Egypt, so instead, scans of it may be the next best thing. At Hyperallergic, Claire Voon writes:
Ultimately, the artists hope their actions will place pressure on not only the Neues Museum but on all museums to repatriate objects to the communities and nations from which they came. Rather than viewing such an idea as radical, they see it as pragmatic, as a logical update to cultural institutions in the digital era: especially given the technological possibilities of today, the pair believes museums who repatriate artifacts could then show copies or digital representatives of them. Many people have already created their own Nefertitis from the released data; the 3D statue in the American University in Cairo stands as such an example of Al-Badri and Nelles’s ideals for the future of museums, in addition to being one immediate solution that may arise from individual action.Watch the surreptitious scanning below:
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