By Abby Ott
Egypt is a land of history and artifacts, but recently the country has been recognized more for its governmental unrest rather than the museums and landmarks.
“The art of the Egyptians in many ways really reflects and embodies a lot of the values and identity issues that have come to define much of early Egyptian culture to this day, and have become synonymous with Egyptian life and culture,” said Dr. Steve Halla, assistant director of art.
Egyptians have valued their art for thousands of years, but the recent riots and upheaval in Egypt have greatly affected significant relics.
“The functions of art are as limitless as the intentions of the human heart,” Halla said. “When looking at art within a culture … the arts have always had an intimate relationship with identity, religious expression and communication.”
The Egyptian Museum, which houses numerous treasured ancient pieces, is in close proximity to the recent protests. Despite the peoples’ attempts to protect the artifacts, a few pieces from the museum were stolen and others were damaged as civil unrest continued to intensify. There was much concern over the artifacts related to King Tutankhamun that were said to be missing, such as his golden mask. Weeks after the pieces were reported lost, some have been returned and others have been restored, including the golden mask.
“Any loss or destruction of such objects really does to some degree taint you in terms of national pride and identity,” Halla said.
According to Halla, the loss of art in an area will affect the culture in multiple ways. In one way, there is an aesthetic loss because the art piece will no longer be a part of the people’s experience. Culturally, there is a loss because a part of the area’s identity that was exemplified through the piece is misplaced. In addition, Halla said he feels there is an intellectual loss because the artifact is not accessible to be studied or researched.
“In a context like Egypt, there might be a heightened sense of the importance of the cultural artifact because every day they are seeing and being reminded that there is a long history,” Halla said. “They will feel the loss much greater, given their history, than perhaps other cultures that are more recent.”
Kate Allen, junior art major, was able to see the museum when she visited Cairo last spring. She also visited Cairo for a second time over Christmas break in 2010. Allen said the news of the destruction was not shocking to her because the pieces were not well protected according to American or European standards. They were easily accessible to civilians.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, minister of antiquities and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, wrote on his blog Feb. 23 that he and his team are doing the best they can to protect the monuments and restore the damaged pieces.
“Art is a vital part of any society, and ancient relics and art being destroyed is a tragedy,” Allen said. “It was a privilege to visit the museum and see the art I had only read about in my art history books.”
Whether or not the loss of the destroyed and looted pieces will negatively affect the number of visitors to the museum is debatable.
“Tourists will be cautious traveling (to Egypt) knowing that the Egyptians just went through a political uprising,” Allen said. “Even though it is a great relief that the pieces were found, I think it will still be a while before the museum recovers its once booming tourist influx.”
Halla, on the other hand, said he feels that travelers might have a sense of urgency about visiting Egypt while they can, in the event that future incidents might completely prevent tourists from seeing the valued art later.
As of Feb. 20, all of the archeological sites reopened, along with six of the antiquities museums.