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 have until 29 March 2016 to raise the £16 million necessary to buy the work for the nation. This is the second time that DCMS has opted to defer its decision on an export licence for the piece.
Northampton Borough Council sold the piece at Christie’s last summer to raise money for local museum improvements. But the decision backfired 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 original export bar expired on 29 July, but was extended by the government to 28 August, after which DCMS went quiet. Today’s statement claims that the culture minister has had ‘notification of a serious intention to raise funds to save the Sekhemka statue for the UK’. But the efforts to do so have been challenged by Egypt’s antiquities minister Mamdouh Eldamaty, who has called for the statue’s repatriation. We can expect plenty more debate over the next six months.