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“The Actuality of the Ancient. Contemporary Art, Icons and Identity.”

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Published on Dec 7, 2015

Panel Discussion,
30th November 2015, Goethe Institut, Downtown Cairo, Egypt
Initiated by the artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles.

Panelists:
- Dr. Monica Hanna, Archaeologist American University Cairo
- Alexander Koch, KOW Galerie Berlin and Noveaux Commanditaires e.V.
- Prof. Susanne Leeb, Leuphana University Lüneburg
- Simon Njami, writer, independent curator, art critic

Moderator: Angela Boskovitch, independent journalist

Generously funded by Goethe Institute Cairo.

Archaeological artefacts as a cultural memory originate for the most part from the so called southern hemisphere, however a vast number if not the majority of important objects can be found in Western Museums and collections. One of the most iconic examples is the Nefertiti bust in Berlin. Does the possession of these objects mean having power over history as described by the art historian Tony Bennett? What is the state of the “post-colonial” discourse and repatriation in Germany? Ancient objects are seen by so called universal museums of the West as the cultural property of all mankind. The apologists of existing power structures built a ‘counternarrative’ where for example African countries are unsafe and can not be trusted with preserving and protecting their own cultural artefacts. Are the artefacts objectified and any different through classification and de-contextualization? What role can contemporary art play in this context.What are existing artistic strategies? How can the artefacts in museums and storages be activated or appropriated?

There are countless illegal diggings in Egypt as well as in Iraq or in Syria with severe impacts such as financing of terrorist activities or the disappearance in private collections without any legal consequences. Right after weapons and drugs, illicit trade with antiquities is the third largest illegal market in the world with more than 6 billions Euro estimated according to UNESCO. Which impact does this have on the affected cultures and their identity? Is this a manifestation of neo-colonial hegemony?

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