The Northampton based “Save Sekhemka Action Group” [SSAG] have issued a statement stating their position following Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s decision to support the recommendation of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) and impose a temporary export ban on the funerary statue of the Egyptian Royal Scribe, Sekhemka, sold at Christie’s last July for a world record £15.7 million. The action group, which was initially set up to campaign to stop the sale of the statue by Northampton Borough Council, state
“Following the Temporary Export ban imposed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Save Sekhemka Action Group are campaigning for an agreement whereby the buyer of the internationally important Egyptian Statue, sold by Northampton Borough Council in 2014, loans the statue to a major UK Museum where it can be once again placed on public display.
thePipeLine understands that SSAG have already approached a number of organisations and museums in an effort to seek support for the loan move, which would by-pass the ethical issues surrounding any direct fundraising to buy the statue and compensate the anonymous buyer. This could be seen as endorsing the original sale and reward Northampton Borough Council [NBC] for what was universally condemned as an short sighted, unethical action which risked inflating the market for antiquities at a time when the trafficking of antiquities for profit and even to fund terrorism by organisations such as Daish/IS is a growing problem.The promise to continue to investigate the legality of the original sale is also potentially significant. The Action Group point out that there are still a number of questions regarding the circumstances of the sale and the precise ownership of the statue which could yet undermine the legality of the sale in the first place. Particularly the precise legal ownership of the statue of Sekhemka at the time it was sold.
As previously reported in thePipeLine, a senior Northampton Borough Council officer signed off on the sales agreement with auctioneer Christie’s stating the Council was owner of the internationally important statue. However, when the Museums Association Ethics Committee investigated the sale prior to suspending Northampton Museums for five years for breaches of the Museums Association code of conduct and ethics, it found that the ownership of the statue was in question. A view based on the fact that Northampton Borough Council paid Spencer Compton, the Marquis of Northampton £6 million from the proceeds of the sale, the Council having paid all the sellers fees. If the Council genuinely owned the statue the Marquis was effectively gifted £6 million of public money. It is also understood that the circumstances around the original export of the statue from Egypt in the 1850’s are also under investigation. Given all these questions, which were in the public domain before the sale took place, there are also questions over whether Christie’s undertook an effective process of due diligence.
For now all eyes will first be on Arts Council England and the department for Culture Media and Sport to see if they can work with the buyer, who is rumoured to be from one of the Gulf States, and will attempt to broker a long term loan to an appropriate UK Museum to ensure that Sekhemka remains available for both the public and scholars to enjoy and study. Meanwhile political correspondents will have an eye on the constituency of Northampton South where the architect of the sale, the former Leader of Northampton Borough Council David Mackintosh, is standing as the Conservative candidate in the General Election on May 7. Mr Mackintosh will hope that there are no fresh embarrassing revelations about Sekhemka and NBC’s precise relationship with the Marquis of Northampton before polling day and that, if he is elected to Westminster, the whole affair of the Scribe, the Council and the £6 million will go away. However, given the tenacity shown by the Save Sekhemka Action Group in sticking with the story as a matter of principle and ethics, thePipeLine ventures to suggest that it is a vain hope and that there are almost certainly more revelations to come.