On Zahi Hawass’ “Wanted” List: “Bust of Prince Ankhhaf,” Egyptian, Old Kingdom, 2520-2494 B.C., Boston Museum of Fine Arts
In his revealing Al Jazeera television interview, posted today on ArtsJournal‘s home page, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, unintentionally demonstrated why the British Museum; Louvre; Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim; Egyptian Museum, Berlin; and Boston Museum of Fine Arts may be justifiably wary about his request that they send their signature ancient artifacts to Egypt for a temporary vacation in their native land.
At one point in the conversation with journalist Riz Khan, Hawass stated:
I want them [the ancient artifacts] to come for a visit for three months, for the opening of the great museum in the shadow of the Pyramid.
But later in the interview, he sounded less the kind host than the potential captor. He forcefully declared:
The Rosetta Stone [the "loan" he desires from the British Museum] is in England. We own that stone. The motherland should own this.
Comments like that are why museums asked to lend coveted objects to repatriation-minded source countries are concerned that once in the bosom of the “motherland,” the loans may not get to use their return tickets.
During the interview, Hawass also provided one of those priceless “Did he really say that?” moments. In describing his ongoing row with the St. Louis Art Museum over its 3,200-year-old mummy mask, he confided to Khan:
I even wrote to schools of kids and told them not to go and visit that museum, because there is an artifact that belongs to a country that was stolen and should come back to Egypt.
If your powers of persuasion don’t work on the State Department (to which he also wrote), try St. Louis’ six-year-olds—schoolyard diplomacy.