Artists Covertly Scan Bust of Nefertiti and Release the Data for Free Online

An Iraqi/German pair of artists just pulled off what might be one of the most digitally-enhanced art heists in recent time. They covertly scanned the Nefertiti bust (with an Xbox 360 Kinect sensor, no less) and released the 3D printing plans online. They did so as an act of defiance, as the bust was actually looted from an Egyptian site by German archaeologists.[x]

[article by Claire Voone /Hyperallergic]

Last October, two artists entered the Neues Museum in Berlin, where they clandestinely scanned the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the state museum’s prized gem. Three months later, they released the collected 3D dataset online as a torrent, providing completely free access under public domain to the one object in the museum’s collection off-limits to photographers. Anyone may download and remix the information now; the artists themselves used it to create a 3D-printed, one-to-one polymer resin model they claim is the most precise replica of the bust ever made, with just micrometer variations. That bust now resides permanently in the American University of Cairo as a stand-in for the original, 3,300-year-old work that was removed from its country of origin shortly after its discovery in 1912 by German archaeologists in Amarna.

Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles with the 3D bust in Cairo

The project, called “The Other Nefertiti,” is the work of German-Iraqi artist Nora Al-Badri and German artist Jan Nikolai Nelles, who consider their actions an artistic intervention to make cultural objects publicly available to all. For years, Germany and Egypt have hotly disputed the rightful location of the stucco-coated, limestone Queen, with Egyptian officials claiming that she left the country illegally and demanding the Neues Museum return her. With this controversy of ownership in mind, Al-Badri and Nelles also want, more broadly, for museums to reassess their collections with a critical eye and consider how they present the narratives of objects from other cultures they own as a result of colonial histories.

The Neues Museum, which the artists believe knows about their project but has chosen not to respond, is particularly guarded towards accessibility to data concerning its collections. According to the pair, although the museum has scanned Nefertiti’s bust, it will not make the information public — a choice that increasingly seems backwards as more and more museums around the world are encouraging the public to access their collections, often through digitization projects. Notably, the British Museum has hosted a “scanathon” where visitors scanned objects on display with their smartphones to crowdsource the creation of a digital archive — an event that contrasts starkly with Al-Badri and Nelles’s covert deed.

3D rendering of the bust of Nefertiti

“We appeal to [the Neues Museum] and those in charge behind it to rethink their attitude,” Al-Badri told Hyperallergic. “It is very simple to achieve a great outreach by opening their archives to the public domain, where cultural heritage is really accessible for everybody and can’t be possessed.”

In a gesture of clear defiance to institutional order, Al-Badri and Nelles leaked the information at Europe’s largest hacker conference, the annual Chaos Communication Congress. Within 24 hours, at least 1,000 people had already downloaded the torrent from the original seed, and many of them became seeders as well. Since then, the pair has also received requests from Egyptian universities asking to use the information for academic purposes and even businesses wondering if they may use it to create souvenirs. Nefertiti’s bust is one of the most copied works from Ancient Egypt — aside from those with illicit intents, others have used photogrammetry to reconstruct it — and its allure and high-profile presence make it a particularly charged work to engage with in discussions of ownership and institutional representations of artifacts.

“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,” Al-Badri said. “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. We should face the fact that the colonial structures continue to exist today and still produce their inherent symbolic struggles.

Al-Badri and Nelles take issue, for instance, with the Neues Museum’s method of displaying the bust, which apparently does not provide viewers with any context of how it arrived at the museum — thus transforming it and creating a new history tantamount to fiction, they believe. Over the years, the bust has become a symbol of German identity, a status cemented by the fact that the museum is state-run, and many Egyptians have long condemned this shaping of identity with an object from their cultural heritage.

The heist: museumshack from jnn on Vimeo

Ultimately, the artists hope their actions will place pressure on not only the Neues Museum but on all museums to repatriate objects to the communities and nations from which they came.

Rather than viewing such an idea as radical, they see it as pragmatic, as a logical update to cultural institutions in the digital era: especially given the technological possibilities of today, the pair believes museums who repatriate artifacts could then show copies or digital representatives of them. Many people have already created their own Nefertitis from the released data; the 3D statue in the American University in Cairo stands as such an example of Al-Badri and Nelles’s ideals for the future of museums, in addition to being one immediate solution that may arise from individual action.

“Luckily there are ways where we don’t even need any topdown effort from institutions or museums,” Al-Badri said, “but where the people can reclaim the museums as their public space through alternative virtual realities, fiction, or captivating the objects like we did.”

3D-printed bust of Nefertiti

[source: Hyperallergic, emphasis mine]


HISTORY  MEME: [1/8] OBJECTS: Nefertiti Bust

↳The Nefertiti Bust is a 3,300-year-old painted limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, and one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. Owing to the work, Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women of the ancient world, and an icon of feminine beauty. The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose. (x)


Queen Nefertiti was more than the iconic pretty face. She and her husband shook shit up in ancient Egypt when they decided to change the religion, art and culture for the first time in the three thousand year old run of static Egyptian culture. (FOR THREE THOUSAND YEARS ANCIENT EGYPT STAYED THE SAME!!) Nefertiti, while being beautiful, was her husband’s equal and had elevated power. She was one of the only examples of being represented as a strong and loving Queen and Mother in Egyptian art work. Hell yeah.

Empress Wu Zetian was empress of early imperial China. She was, in fact, the FIRST woman to become emperor of China. She started out as the previous emperor’s favorite concubine, then his favorite wife and then a stand-in for her young son after he died…and then she said “fuck y'all i’m running this shit now” and made herself empress of China.

Catherine the Great started out as timid german princess marrying the next emperor of Russia who wouldn’t have sex with her and wanted to play with toy german soldiers all day. Luckily she knew from the start that she just wanted Russia’s crown. After battling for power in Russia’s royal court she managed to flip the table and claimed the Russian throne-even while her husband was still emperor. Of course she managed to murder him, crown herself empress and then proceed to lead Russia into its golden age.  

I did all this research on royal women in history because I was tired of seeing Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra being celebrated again and again and again when there is obviously all these other great sassy and stylish Queen Bees that exist in our history. Then I created three illustrations to celebrate these bad ass ladies and the culture they thrived in. 

modern queens | nefertiti

nefertiti, whose name means “the beautiful one has come,” was the queen of egypt and wife of pharaoh akhenaten during the 14th century b.c. she and her husband established the cult of aten, the sun god, and promoted egyptian artwork that was radically different from its predecessors. little is known about the origins of nefertiti, but her legacy of beauty and power continue to intrigue scholars today. her name is egyptian and means “the beautiful one has come.”

the exact date when nefertiti married amenhotep III’s son, the future pharaoh amenhotep IV, is unknown. it is believed she was 15 when they wed, which may have been before akhenaten assumed the throne. they apparently ruled together and had six daughters, with speculation that they may have also had a son. the king and his head queen seem to be inseparable in reliefs, often shown riding in chariots together and even kissing in public. it has been stated that the couple may have had a genuine romantic connection, a dynamic not generally seen in pharaoh depictions.

Nefertiti, Queen of Egypt

Medium : Digital Painting
Software : Krita

This representation is based upon her famous bust found by archeologists in 1912. In her time, she was believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world :)

References : Lupita Nyong'o
Also on : ArtStation, DeviantArt
Prints sold on : Society6