The Malawi Archaeological Museum in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya has been a hive of activity over recent weeks, with curators, restorers and exhibition design specialists all busy at work to meet the museum’s scheduled re-opening on Thursday
Workers are cleaning the dust from gigantic colossi, and curators are placing labels at the foot of artefacts as others install descriptive panels beside showcases. Restorers are on the scene inspecting the condition of every object.
“Finally after three years of rehabilitation work the Malawi Museum is in the limelight again, with a little twist,” head of the Museums Department at the Ministry of Antiquities Elham Salah said.
She said the two-storey museum building had been overhauled and its indoor decoration and design renewed. The first floor was formerly dedicated to displaying the museum’s treasured collection and the second floor for administration.
But the new design concept of the museum no longer depended on placing artefacts next to each other to illustrate ancient Egyptian civilisation, she said. Instead, it provided a broader educational service to visitors and sent out messages that would raise archaeological awareness and loyalty towards Egypt.
It informed Egyptian visitors about how their ancestors had built such a great civilisation through showing daily life, industries and culture, she said.
“This is a new philosophy that the ministry of antiquities is adopting in order to turn the country’s regional museums into more educational, cultural and productive institutions,” Salah said, adding that the idea was for these museums to help educate people about culture, religions and politics.
Egypt’s regional museums had sometimes not fulfilled their true potential because they had often displayed objects without a thematic storyline. This had meant that they had not always attracted their fair share of visitors.
“Every regional museum should reflect the city or town in which it is located,” Salah said, explaining that in the new Malawi Museum, for example, the exhibition design provided clear information about the history of Malawi and Minya and the role these had played in Egyptian civilisation.
The museum has a permanent exhibition of 425 artefacts, some of them from its former collection while the rest have been carefully selected from the Al-Ashmounein and Al-Bahnasa storerooms in the Minya Museum.
The exhibition is divided into sections displaying Minya residents’ daily lives in ancient times and the utensils they used in their houses for cooking as well as the tools they used to make goods and those used for cultivation and trading.
The museum has sections on clay pots and pans, textiles, medicines and writing styles. Panels explaining the development of tools in the area are on display, as is information on how the ancient Egyptians used natural and artificial light.
Jewellery is on display in one section of the new museum, shown through a display of make-up containers, wigs, necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
Ancient Egyptian religious rituals are highlighted in the new museum, since Minya was a main centre of the monotheistic religion introduced by the pharaoh Akhenaten in ancient times.
A collection of mummified animals is also on display to show visitors that the ancient Egyptians not only worshipped animals but were also very fond of them.
Concepts of justice, love and eternity are also illustrated. The funerary collection of Henu, one of the region’s ancient nobles, is on display, for example, reflecting traditions regarding the afterlife in ancient times.
“Workshops to revive ancient Egyptian handicrafts are being organised in the museum,” Salah pointed out, adding that these would teach ancient tapestry weaving in order to help local people gain skills that could lead to sustainable employment.
Goods produced by the workshops would be sold under an agreement with the ministry.
Waadallah Abul-Ezz, head of the Projects Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, told the Weekly that the restoration of the museum had cost around LE10 million provided by the ministry, the Minya governorate and Belgian donors.
The building, he said, had been completely renovated, changed from being a mostly outdoor museum to indoor exhibition halls. A new lighting and security system had been installed and walls cleaned and polished and damaged showcases had been replaced with new ones.
Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enani visited the museum earlier this week in order to inspect the restoration work and preparations towards the re-opening. He said that larger pieces damaged when the museum was looted had been restored and recovered objects would be returned to their original places.
The Malawi Archaeological Museum was looted during clashes between supporters of deposed former president Mohamed Morsi and the security forces after the latter broke up the sit-ins in the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda Squares in Cairo in 2013.
Some 1,049 of the museum’s 1,089 artefacts were reported missing, including a collection of faience beads, statuettes of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris, clay pots, a limestone statue of the god Thot in the shape of a baboon, a rectangular relief of an ibis bird and the palm of the goddess Maat, as well as a collection of papyri written in ancient Egyptian demotic script and various Graeco-Roman marble and limestone reliefs.
Artefacts too heavy for the vandals to carry away were damaged in situ.
663 objects were recovered after being handed in by Malawi residents or left at the museum’s gates after the ministry declared an amnesty on the return of any looted artefacts.
curator organising artefacts in showcases
*This story was first published in Ahram Weekly