Artefacts of Tutankhamun's collection on display in Vienna [Photos courtesy of Sandro Vanini]
Is the policy of the Supreme Council of Antiquities to exhibitions abroad succeeding in reaching its target, asks Nevine El-Aref
By Nevine El-Aref
"Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs" opened two weeks ago in Vienna, once again igniting the controversy about ancient Egypt's most famous Pharaoh, Tutankhamun.
The exhibition has been drawing huge crowds to the Völkerkunde Museum to see what the organisers have billed as a unique exhibition of Egypt's treasures. "Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs" has sold 50,000 advance tickets since they were made available in December 2007, creating "more interest than any other exhibition we ever organised", Wilfried Seipel, the head of Vienna's Fine Arts Museum and one of the organisers, said.
At least half a million visitors are expected to view the statues, funerary objects and gold jewellery on show from 15 March to 28 September.
The exhibition displays 140 objects from Cairo's Egyptian Museum, many of which, the museum director Wafaa El-Saddik says, have never previously left the country.
A travelling sister exhibition which has been touring Europe and the United States since 2004, organised by National Geographic, has drawn four million visitors to date. Adding to the hype is a show in Zurich opening on Saturday which recreates King Tut's tomb to its original scale.
The show in Vienna takes a slightly different angle, with a broader overview of Egypt's more than 5,000 years of history, Seipel says.
Despite a ticket price of 18 euros per person ($27), steep by Viennese standards, organisers expect a packed house with visitors from all over Europe queuing to see King Tutankhamun's golden sandals and a canopic jar studded with precious stones that contained the stomach of Egypt's ruler. "Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs," is the only European stop for the exhibition during its tour, which is jointly organised by National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International and AEG Exhibitions, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM).
"Tutankhamun's magic still captures the hearts of people all over the world, even though more than 75 years have passed since the discovery of his amazing tomb," said Zahi Hawass, secretary- general of the SCA. Now, he said, the Golden King was visiting Vienna for the first time, and he was bringing with him all the great Pharaohs of Egypt. The exhibition will raise much-needed funds for the preservation of Egypt's monuments, and the construction and renovation of museums throughout the country. "I always say that Egyptian antiquities are the heritage of the world and that we are only their guardians," Hawass said, pointing out that Vienna, a city with its own remarkable cultural heritage, is a perfect place to begin this tour. "I know that all of Vienna will shine with the gold of Tutankhamun," he said.
"Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs" features striking objects from some of the most important rulers in the period of ancient Egyptian history from the Fourth Dynasty to the beginning of the Late Period (about 2600-660 BC).
"This exhibition will thrill anyone who has ever been fascinated with the ancient arts and culture of Egypt," Seipel said. "It is also a unique opportunity to enjoy a close up experience of the treasure trove from Tutankhamun's legendary tomb. The objects present an entirely new and unique insight into the world of this ancient Egyptian ruler."
Looking at a variety of contexts, including temples and royal and private tombs, the exhibition focuses on the splendour of the Egyptian Pharaohs, their function in the earthly and divine worlds, and what kingship meant to the Egyptian people. More than 70 treasures from Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb and a similar number representing other Pharaohs and notables are on show, along with the latest scientific research about Tutankhamun.
"Egypt's ancient treasures are among the world's greatest cultural legacies," National Geographic Society Executive Vice-President Terry Garcia said. "Even with the great wealth of research that already exists, new technologies continue to open up the past in ways never imagined. Visitors to this exhibit will not only see stunning artefacts spanning 2,000 years of ancient Egyptian history, but they will also learn more about the life and death of Tutankhamun through the recent CT scans conducted on his mummy."
The exhibition is organised thematically, with the first six galleries presenting the life of the Pharaoh and his position in ancient Egypt. The objects on display represent some of the most powerful rulers of Egypt, such as the owner of the second pyramid of Giza, Khafre; the queen who became a Pharaoh, Hatshepsut; and Psusennes I, whose magnificent golden death mask is on display.
The first two galleries, "The Great Pharaohs", are dedicated to the major Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The next three, "Pharaoh's Family and Private Life", "Pharaoh's Court" and "Pharaoh's Religion", contain artefacts illustrating the royal family, life at court, and traditional and revolutionary ideology. The sixth gallery, "Pharaoh's Gold", shows where the gold came from, what it meant and how it was used.
Step by step, visitors come closer to the treasures of Tutankhamun and the world of the mysterious Pharaoh. Each of the four galleries devoted to the boy king corresponds to the four rooms of his nearly intact tomb, where the treasures were discovered by British explorer Howard Carter in 1922. Legendary artefacts from the antechamber, the annex, the treasury and the burial chamber include Tutankhamun's golden sandals, jewellery, furniture, weaponry and statuary.
The exhibition includes the largest image of King Tut ever found -- a three- metre statue that originally may have stood at Tutankhamun's mortuary temple, and that still retains much of its original paint. There is also the canopic coffinette inlaid with gold and precious stones, one of the four that contained his mummified internal organs.
The final gallery features CT scans of Tutankhamun's mummified body that were obtained as part of a landmark Egyptian research and conservation project, partially funded by National Geographic, to scan and investigate the ancient mummies of Egypt. The scans were captured through the use of a portable CT scanner donated by Siemens Medical Solutions, which allowed researchers to compile the first three-dimensional picture of Tutankhamun and discover more about his life and death.
"Through this exhibition, adults and children will gain insight into the world of ancient Egypt, the lives of the pharaohs and what they meant to Egyptian society," said John Norman, president of Arts and Exhibitions International. "The boy king has been warmly welcomed in Vienna, and we look forward to sharing the wonders of Tutankhamun with all who visit."
Although the "Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs" exhibition is a proven success only two weeks after its opening in Vienna, as is its sister exhibition, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs", now on display in London, the ongoing controversy surrounding the SCA's policy of sending archaeological treasures to travel abroad has been once again captured the headlines of the Egyptian press.
Since the early 1970s, when the Tutankhamun exhibition set out on its first trip around Europe, the controversy has surfaced among Egyptologists and intellectuals on the one hand and the Ministry of Culture and the SCA on the other.
The first group swings between supporters and detractors who consider that sending treasured Egyptian artefacts abroad is a deliberate threat to the country's unique archaeological collection, since they might easily be lost or damaged. Hawass's response is that such accusations are groundless, since all the objects sent abroad are shipped according to an international protocol signed between the SCA and the second party who will host the exhibition. According to this protocol, all the exhibitions consist of selected artefacts that are distinguished but not unique. The best security and safety measures are employed to safeguard the objects.
Over the past five years, Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly, the SCA has earned almost $350 million from 23 exhibitions sent abroad. This falls within the framework of the policy developed by the SCA to sending archaeological exhibitions abroad and at the same time give Egypt added worldwide publicity.
Culture Minister Farouk Hosni stated that the money earned from these exhibitions went towards the restoration and preservation of Egypt's monuments as well as building new museums to protect its heritage. He added that the income had also provided a great opportunity to show the many faces of Egypt -- past, present and future.
Hawass pointed out that Egypt was not alone in profiting from the travelling exhibitions; so were the host countries and museums. Egypt will receive about $35 million for the Tutankhamun tour of the United Sates and England, which will share in the huge budget allocated to construct the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Pyramids of Giza.
He pointed out that the Tutankhamun exhibition had also visited Basel in Switzerland and Bonn in Germany, where it earned $6 million, before embarking on its two-year tour of four American states, from each of which it earned $9 million.
"This money is not even a drop of water in the bucket of cash needed to build this museum," Hawass said. "It is costing billions of dollars."
Emad Maklad, head of the financial department of the SCA, told the Weekly that so far 48 monuments in Cairo alone had been restored and reopened to the public. The total cost for these was LE170 million. Another 31 monuments were under restoration for an estimated LE68 million.
Maklad said that up to now the number of restored monuments in historic Cairo and Al-Mueizz Street had topped 94, with a budget of LE800 million.
Achraf El-Achmawi, the SCA's legal consultant, said that according to its new policy, the SCA provided the travelling collection with the maximum safety, security and insurance. Money would also be made by selling official replicas in foreign museums during the period of exhibitions, he said.
The new protocol fills the loopholes in the previous agreement so as to provide the maximum safety for objects. "For the first time it includes details concerning the wrapping of items according to international standards, while the transportation must be conducted through a large and well-known organisation known for its long experience in the field," El-Achmawi told the Weekly. He added that, according to the new agreement, the exhibitors must provide the SCA with a weekly report about the number of tickets sold and the number of visitors in order to keep the SCA informed on exhibition revenues, which will be divided between the SCA and the exhibitors.
Prior to any object being packaged for shipment, exhibitors must submit to the SCA, at the exhibition venue, a primary insurance policy and reinsurance policies naming the SCA as the insured and covering the insured value of the objects with an amount determined by the SCA. The insurance policy will be to an amount sufficient to cover loss, partial or total damage, confiscation, theft or seizure of all or any part of the object due to force majeur, war, terrorism, any emergency or public disturbance, or accident, negligence, or sudden circumstances including, but not limited to, earthquakes and tornadoes.
The primary insurance policy must be issued by an Egyptian insurance carrier approved by the SCA and reinsured by reinsurance companies of worldwide reputation. Such insurance policies will be valid and effectual for the period commencing with the packing of the objects for shipment to the location of the exhibition venue, until their return to Egypt, including final unpacking, checking and authentication of each object by the SCA upon their return. "In short, this is wall-to-wall insurance coverage," El-Achmawi said.
The insurance protects the SCA against any and all claims for bodily or physical injury of any associate connected in any way with the exhibition of the objects, of the type, nature and in the amounts as agreed in writing between the parties.
"Sending exhibitions abroad has been the SCA's policy for years. I did not invent it," Hawass told the Weekly. He said such exhibitions promoted Egypt's cultural face at a time when cultural tension between the Muslim-Arab world and the West was running high. Cultural diplomacy provides a free promotional campaign, attracting tourists as well as generating money for conservation. "The first exhibition, 'Quest for Immortality', was organised in 2002 during the tenure of my predecessor," Hawass continued. "Egypt made a $1 million from every state where the exhibition was held."
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