Unrest in Egypt shouldn't threaten 2014 Walters exhibit

Artifacts to be showcased in coming exhibit unharmed in Cairo museum looting

February 03, 2011|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum, is guardedly hopeful that the unrest in Egypt won't interfere with a big exhibit planned for the fall of 2014.

Long before protests broke out this week, the Walters had been working on a future exhibit that will spotlight the ancient treasures of the North African nation. So, when Vikan heard that Egypt's museums and storehouses were being looted, he was understandably concerned.

But early indications are that damage to Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum was relatively minor, and that the approximately 70 items that were taken or smashed in the first 24 hours of the unrest can be repaired. Egyptian military forces have secured the museums and storehouses for precious artifacts spread throughout the country, according to news reports.

"The Egyptian people are very protective of who they are," Vikan said. "We are cautiously optimistic that the different factions will be able to resolve their differences without destroying their heritage."

The Walters' Egyptian exhibit is planned in part around an ancient scroll that tells the story of creation. The scroll has been divided into three pieces, and one is in the Cairo museum.

Though the fate of the scroll is unknown, Vikan said it is less vulnerable to theft or damage than are other, more obviously valuable pieces, such as jewelry and small figurines carved from precious metals.

But even if Egypt's treasures remain intact, the aftermath of the disturbances could throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Curators at the Walters have been working closely with Zahi Hawass, Egypt's newly appointed minister of antiquities, to secure the necessary permissions to borrow the scroll and other precious artifacts for the 2014 exhibit.

It is unclear whether installation of a new Egyptian president would bring a clean sweep of administrative posts, and if so, whether the new minister would feel bound by agreements made by his predecessor.

"What Egypt needs right now," Vikan said, "are voices like [Hawass'] that can diminish the roar and maintain sanity."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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