UK campaigners request Egyptian help to restore ancient statue to public view

Ahram Online from London, Sunday 7 Sep 2014

British activists are outraged that Northampton Museum sold an ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhemka to a private collector for £15.76 million

The statue, of Egyptian scribe Sekhemka
The statue, of Egyptian scribe Sekhemka

A campaign group in the UK has asked the Egyptian authorities for help in its fight to have an ancient Egyptian statue returned to public view after it was sold by Northampton Borough Council to a private collector.

Despite an international outcry, the 4,500-year-old Sekhemka statute was sold two months ago to an unknown collector for £15.76 million.

The statue, which dates from the Fifth Dynasty and is believed to show Sekhemka the scribe with his wife Sitmerit, was given by the Marquis of Northampton to Northampton Museum as gift in around 1870.

The Save Sekhemka Action Group told Ahram Online it was conducting enquiries into how the statue was acquired by the Marquis.

“We are seeking to check if the statute was legally exported out of Egypt,” said Gunilla Loe, chair of the action group.

The group is also trying to open channels with Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damati to discuss future action.

“Selling the Sekhemka to a private collector and depriving the public of the right to see it is an international scandal,” Loe added.

The group pledges not give up until the statue is returned to public view at Northampton Museum.

It is believed there is no other statue like Sekhemka in a UK museum.

The campaign group, which is supported by nine archaeological, art, museum and historical organisations and societies, spent two years trying to stop the sale of the statue, saying it was “unethical.”

It has asked for information on the legal agreement between Lord Northampton and the museum on the sale of the statue.

But the museum considers the issue closed.

"Sekhemka has now been sold and we are focusing on the future," a museum spokesperson told Ahram Online.

It is widely believed that Lord Northampton agreed late in 2013 to transfer his claim to the ownership of the statue to the museum in exchange for 45 percent of an eventual sale price, while the museum keeps 55 percent and pays all auction house fees.

On 1 August, the museum lost its accreditation status after the controversial sale of the statue.

Arts Council England ruled the sale breached the accredited standards for how museums manage their collections.

Egypt condemned the sale as an "an affront to Egyptian archaeology."

The museum earlier told Ahram Online it had contacted Egyptian officials two years ago regarding its plan to sell Sekhemka, a claim categorically denied by the Egyptian embassy in London.

The campaign group said it regrets the museum's loss of accreditation because this stops it being eligible for outside grants from the Lottery, Arts Council England and other arts and cultural grant-giving bodies.

Leo said he hopes the removal of accreditation “will serve as a warning to other museums and local authorities not to sell items from public collections.”

Northampton Borough Council said the Arts Council's decision was "disappointing" and "puzzling." It argues it had to sell the statute to collect money to fund a multi-million pound investment plan for its museum service.

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