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UK government extends export bar on £16 million Sekhemka statue

11 August 2015

The UK government has extended its export bar on a valuable ancient Egyptian statue known as the Sekhemka, in an effort to keep the work in the country. Potential buyers now have until noon on 28 August to put forward a ‘serious expression of interest to raise funds’ to the tune of £16 million.

Northampton Borough Council sold the piece at Christie’s last summer to raise money for local museum improvements. But the decision backfired dramatically when the Northampton Museums Service was barred from membership of the Museums Association for breaching its code of ethics, and stripped of its Arts Council Accreditation. The controversy also derailed the council’s bid for Heritage Lottery Funding, and drew a barrage of criticism from local residents, cultural figures, and the Egyptian ambassador.

The Sekhemka statue, which was bought by a private collector overseas, dates from around 2400–2300 BC and depicts an inspector of the royal scribes. It is an exceptionally rare and well-preserved work. The extension keeps hopes alive that a UK buyer may be found: but as Alistair Brown has pointed out, it seems unlikely that another public institution will want to involve itself in such a contentious sale.

There may be still more time: the government hasn’t ruled out a further extension to 29 March 2016, if it gets wind of any serious proposals to save the work for the nation.