The bust of Queen Nefertiti, like many precious artifacts from the ancient world, was long ago taken from its home. The Egyptian treasure currently lives in Berlin’s Neues Museum. But now, thanks to some neat techno-guerrilla-ism, the bust is also back at home in Cairo.
The project is called The Other Nefertiti. German artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles made a clandestine 3-D scan of the bust without the permission of the museum, and they made the resulting files freely available to download under a Creative Commons license.
It’s not easy to take even a cellphone photo in a German museum, without the ever-vigilant guards busting you, so a 3-D scan is pretty impressive. The artists even managed to shoot a video of themselves making the scan, which was done by slinging a scanning camera around their neck, and covering it up with a scarf, uncovering it only long enough to snap a shot.
The artists used the scans to 3-D print a replica, which they claim is the most precise ever made. That bust is now in the American University of Cairo
“The head of Nefertiti represents all the other millions of stolen and looted artifacts all over the world currently happening, for example, in Syria, Iraq, and in Egypt,” says Al-Badri. “Archaeological artifacts as a cultural memory originate for the most part from the global south; however, a vast number of important objects can be found in Western museums and private collections.”
The Neues Museum doesn’t make its own scans available, preferring to treat the Egyptian artifact like Disney treats its own appropriated properties, like Snow White, a movie based on a story long in the public domain. Al-Badri and Nelles’s scan was, according to Hyperallergic, downloaded over 1,000 times in the first 24 hours it was available.
Now, anyone can have their own Nefertiti, including the thousands of Egyptian souvenir sellers who can now make perfect molds of the original. But the idea of perfect copies brings other opportunities. The artists suggest that museums could repatriate the originals of contested items like Nefertiti, which the Egyptians say was removed form the country illegally, and exhibit a perfect copy in its place.
Working with copies also means the valuable original can be left alone. With many versions showing how the original may have been painted before time faded its colors.
One thing is certain. With 3-D scanning and printing both portable and easily available, this kind of thing will be happening a lot more in the future.