The Save Sekhemka Action Group Poster
The Department for Culture Media and Sport confirmed this afternoon that, as no buyer for the statue of the Egyptian Old Kingdom Scribe Sekhemka had come forward, the temporary export ban which had been in force for a year would be lifted and the owner of the statue would be granted an export licence to take the statue out of the Country. Yesterday thePipeLine revealed that the buyer of the internationally important work of art and Egyptian culture is now widely believed to be a private collector from the USA.
While the move was not unexpected, the DCMS was told in terms that no ethical museum body would attempt to match the £15.76 million hammer price for the statue because Northampton Borough Council’s sale of the statue was in clear breach of UK and International codes of museum ethics and must not be seen to be condoned or rewarded, the announcement was still met with fury by the Save Sekhemka Action Group [SSAG] in Northampton.
The group, which has campaigned to prevent the sale and export of the statue since it was first proposed by the then Leader of Northampton Council, David Mackintosh MP, published it’s reaction to the news of the lifting of the export ban on its Facebook page this evening stating;
“The Save Sekhemka Action Group [SSAG] is saddened that our four year long fight has not borne better fruit. We did rather expect that the ban would be lifted, but it still hurts.”
Alluding to last minute attempts to broker a loan deal with the new owner which would have seen the statue placed on display in London and Cairo the statement continued;
“We had hoped that after my meeting with His Excellency, Mr Nasser Kamel, the Egyptian Ambassador, on Tuesday that we jointly could delay the lifting of the ban but that was not to be.
We suspect that the anonymous buyer is a private individual rather than a reputable museum abroad since we feel that in the latter case the ban would either have been lifted sooner or some sensible solution with a British museum would have been found.
As it is, now the statue will disappear into a private collection never to be seen again.”
The attempts to keep the statue in the public domain were supported by the Government of Egypt and the Egyptian Embassy in London, but they seem to have found no traction with the DCMS, the Arts Council or UK Museum bodies.
Referring to the sense of anger the sale engendered in Cairo and the group’s frustration that a small group of Conservative Councillors and senior officers could, in their view, do so much damage to the reputation of the Town of Northampton, the SSAG statement added;
“We are, like the Egyptians, incensed that the Sekhemka statue was sold and that Northampton Borough Council, its Chief Executive, the then Leader Mr David Mackintosh and the Cabinet let greed rule their actions instead of appreciating a unique artefact of world importance that would have been a powerful tourist attraction and asset for the town.”
In spite of what will be seen as the worst setback yet in the fight to keep the statue of Sekhemka in the public domain and uphold the ethical management of museum collections, the Save Sekhemka Action Group also hinted that, even if the statue does leave the UK, they have not yet given up all hope of uncovering the full story of the original export of the statue from Egypt and its sale at Christie’s in July 2014. Concluding its comment the Action Group states;
“However, we have not given up altogether; there are routes we can pursue and the first will be ascertaining that Sekhemka was legally exported from Egypt in 1850 which will have a bearing on the sale in 2014.”
Mortimer understands that this comment refers to efforts by the group’s researchers and legal advisers as well as lawyers acting on behalf of the Egyptian Government, who have been looking at the legal processes surrounding the export of Egyptian antiquities in the 19th century when Sekhemka was first exported to the UK by the then Marquis of Northampton. The group also hope that it may yet be possible to mount an independent investigation of the secret negotiations and unpublished agreement made with the current Marquis of Northampton, who was gifted over £6 million from the sale by the Council, in spite of the fact that the Council stated repeatedly in public that it owned the statue and the Council paid all the costs liable to the seller.
However, for now the new owner, whoever he or she is, can take possession of one of the world’s most important Egyptian antiquities and do with it what they will. Even though to many in the international archaeological and museum worlds the name Sekhemka is now irrevocably tainted by association with what is widely regarded as one of the most ignorant, secretive, and unethical acts ever perpetrated by those entrusted with the management of a UK Museum.