Tuesday 19 April 2011

Concern About Antiquities Gone Mad

The world is full of idiots it seems:
Egyptian activists and media professionals launched a signature-gathering campaign to sue former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass for “endangering Egyptian artifacts”. Haitham Yahia, an activist and blogger, posted a form on his Facebook and Twitter accounts for people wishing to join the campaign to sign. Yahia then plans to file a report with the attorney general against Hawass, [...] Yahia said Hawass allowed the illegal use of Egyptian artifacts for the promotion of a menswear fashion line that carries his name [...]. Photographer James Weber, who carried out the photoshoot, posted the pictures and an interview about them on his blog on 23 November last year. He said the crew was allowed into the King Tut exhibit in New York City on 7 October.
wait... this is the New York exhibition centre (Discovery Times Square Exposition 226 W. 44th St. (between 7th and 8th Avenues), New York NY 10036) that Zahi Hawass runs? The extraterritorial New York exhibition centre where Egyptian law obtains in place of US law? What on earth is this about? A male model poses in a public museum gallery in New York. What is "illegal" about that? Many people pose daily for photographs standing in front of Egyptian sculptures and monuments, in Egypt and elsewhere. Do "activists" intend to accuse them too of “endangering Egyptian artifacts” and filing a report with the Egyptian attorney general about it?

Does Haitham Yahia and all those Facebookers making a fuss about this live in some backward place where they believe that if you take a picture of something you remove a little of their soul, and in this way they perceive damage to the objects if you take their picture? The photographer has already explained the precautions that were taken to avoid his lamps damaging the objects, and yet the fuss is still being whipped up by the Hawass-bashing Facebook wannabes.

Maybe first they should be writing to the Director of said centre and organizers of the exhibition to express their concern - and ask what their insurers said about this night-time visit.

There are many examples of the use of images of antiquities in commerce, some sexy, some tasteful, some bad taste. There are books written about this (mostly by Cornelius Holtorf it seems to me). Surely this is an expression of the relevance of the past to our lives, the use of ancient sites and monuments (things) evokes a response in ordinary members of the public - though not usually the one we see by the objectors here.

I see nothing wrong with a brand of clothing being named "Zahi Hawass". Astronomy professor the late Carl Sagan has products bearing his name, Like it or not, pop-has-been Bill Wyman has his metal detectors, sports personalities and other celebrities have clothing lines, cosmetics and all sorts of other goods named after them. Where is the problem? Because he is an archaeologist? Hawass, probably foreseeing such a storm, is donating the profits from this line to a Cairo childrens' cancer hospital (that by the way has been confirmed by the Director of that hospital), which is I am sure more than we can say for any of the bloggers and groups criticising him.

I see nothing wrong with photos whether for advertising or not being taken in a museum gallery with permission. I see nothing wrong with that permission being granted in the case of suitable products and assuming precautions are taken not to inconvenience other users and not to damage any of the objects or their surroundings. I see nothing wrong with fake or reproduction antiquities (as here) being used to give the ambience while not subjecting originals to any stress. What on earth is this whole fuss about?

I'm not going to link to the silly petition and the blog post about this. This is not at all about concern for antiquities, that is just a cover for something else. I note that Haitham Yahia's name does not appear on the online petition to the Egyptian government to do more to stop the looting - indeed one might wonder about the motivation of some of those, both in Egypt and outside, that would like to see the back of Zahi Hawass and are trying all sorts of slime attacks - like this one - to achieve his demise.

[Statement of interest: as I have mentioned in this blog, I have an authentic Zahi Hawass hat, it was a present from the States, and sits on the shelf behind me as I write, and - despite having myself had occasion to question some of Hawass' statements about a number of things - I see absolutely nothing wrong with having it, or him marketing them, or anything else. With the exception of "Zahi Hawass metal detectors"]

Photo: "Illegal" photo from New York exhibition.

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