It’s been a bad time for ancient art in the Middle East. On one hand, terrorist groups are gleefully “bulldozing” ancient archeological sites in Iraq and Syria on a weekly basis; on the other, the “ugly Nefertiti Bust,” a piece of public art aesthetically comparable only to the DIY restoration of Ecco Homo in 2012, was briefly installed at the entrance of Samalut City in Upper Egypt last week.
The enormous monument was intended to be a reproduction of the famous 1345 B.C. bust of Nefertiti, located in the Neues Museum in Berlin. The original is an iconic example of the Amarna style of portraiture, popularized during the reign of Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, which was characterized by, among other things, elongated features and prominent chins. This tribute got those parts right, but that’s about it. Rightful comparisons to Frankenstein have been made.
Ugly Nefertiti is currently trending on Twitter, where outraged Egyptians have expressed views ranging from the grave (“This is an insult to Nefertiti and to every Egyptian”) to the cheekily apt (“I guess this is what she looked like four days after she died”). As The Guardian opined, “Egypt has had a revolution, and we should emulate it. We need a revolution against bad public art.”
According to The Cairo Post, reigning Governor Salah el-Din Ziyada condemned the sculptors in a statement, saying they “failed [to present the bust] in its original image, known for its beauty and precise Egyptian facial features.” Zidaya has promised that those responsible for “presenting the statue in a ‘distorted fashion’” will be thoroughly investigated.
The statue has been removed, with the promise of a replacement statue depicting a dubious-sounding “peace dove” to come.