The Other Nefertiti
Nefertiti for everyone
The Other Nefertiti is an artistic intervention by German artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles. In August 2015, they scanned the head of Nefertiti clandestinely in the Neues Museum Berlin without permission of the Museum, by wearing a modified Kinect under a scarf; then they handed the files to an anonymous group of hackers that worked on them and gave them back an high quality .stl file, that they made available on their website as a torrent file under a Creative Commons License.
In November 2015, with the help of the Goethe Institute, the artists brought some 3D printed copies of the artwork to Egypt, and exhibited them as part of the OFF Biennale Cairo. The event marked a symbolic return of the iconic sculpture to the place where it was excavated and stolen by German archeologists, an hundred years later. The project became part of a larger cultural debate after December 2015, when it was presented at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany. The story was covered by online news media such as the New Stateman, The New York Times, and Hyperallergic, and raised questions about the notion of belonging and possession of objects of other cultures, copyright and control over the use of historical artifacts.
The bust of Nefertiti was found in Akhetaten (present-day Amarna) in 1912, was brought to Germany and became part of the collection of the Neues Museum before WWII. Although Egypt would like to bring the sculpture back, Germany has repeatedly refused. Although the Neues Museum made its own high quality 3D scan for archiving and preservation purposes, and even produced an expensive, limited edition copy of the artwork out of it for merchandising, visitors are even prevented from taking photos.
However, the museum didn’t report the artists pretending that their copy wasn’t good enough; while, on the other side, 3D experts declared the project an hoax, saying that the copy is too good to have been produced in the way the artists declare. Paradoxically, the debate shifted from the theft of an original to the originality of the copy.
All considered, The Other Nefertiti is a strong take on the potential of digital technologies such as 3D scanning to “reactivate” artworks buried in museum collections, by making them available in the public domain: an effort that can be compared to that of other artists, such as Oliver Laric and Moreshin Allahyari (who scanned and made publicly available artworks destroyed by the ISIS); and of a few museums, like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met and the British Museum, which encourage visitors to scan objects in their collections.
05 October 2017
Jan Nikolai Nelles