Sunday, August 14, 2011

Request for return of bust to Egypt refused by MFA

With a video which shows the magnificent piece on display at the MFA

In a smoky office a short drive from the Pyramids of Giza, Mohamed Saleh, once the director of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and now the man in charge of the collections for a planned $550 million Grand Egyptian Museum, is asked how much he knows about the bust of Prince Ankhhaf. The precious 4,500-year-old statue, 20 inches tall, left Egypt decades ago and is now on prominent display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Four words are all Saleh needs.

“It is a dream,’’ he says.

The dream is the idea of the Ankhhaf bust returning from Boston, where it has rested since 1927. The Egyptian government is demanding the statue’s return, and the MFA has refused.

But this conflict - one of many the MFA has faced over works in its permanent collection - has been further complicated by the recent tumult in the Egyptian government. And while some claims for ownership of works can be made on legal grounds, this one treads on murkier terrain. The bust of Ankhhaf was given to the MFA by a previous Egyptian government, so the current government has no legal case. Any appeal must be made on moral grounds: that the piece is part of Egypt’s patrimony, and belongs at home.

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