The Other Nefertiti

Counter Intervention to Imperial Cleptomaniac Continuities in Western Museums

“A museum properly understood is not a dumping place. It is not a place where we recycle history’s waste. It is first and foremost an epistemic space.“

Achille Mbembe
Witwaterstrand University
This artistic intervention “The Other Nefertiti” talks about decolonizing our minds, democratization of culture and about activating artifacts. We strived to make this cultural object publicly accessible and to promote a contemporary and critical approach on how the so-called “Global North“ deals with heritage and the representation of “the Other.” We should tell stories of entanglement and deconstruct. Nefertiti is a great case to start with to tell stories to differ of the dominant narrative and to see how they intertwine.

We scanned the head of Nefertiti clandestinely in the Neues Museum Berlin without the permission of the Museum by using a portable scanner - a hacked Kinect. The data of the Nefertiti existed for seven years, but never publicly released by the Neues Museum. Two months after, we released the data, a .stl-file with a density of 9mil polygons during the Chaos Computer Congress 32C3 and the number of downloads exceeded 100k times soon after. A video documenting the secret scanning went viral, and the dataset got shared and remixed countless times.

︎ Video documentation

„Artists ‘steal’ Queen Nefertiti bust by secretly scanning and releasing 3D printing data online. The scanning was an act of protest against Western museums taking artefacts from abroad and claiming them as their own.“
The Independent

After obtaining the data at the Neue Museum in Berlin and before releasing the data on a public domain; we 3D-printed the bust with the industry’s highest standard in accuracy and detail with a deviation of 0.02 mm. The print was brought to Egypt and exhibited in Cairo, as an analog embodiment, which materially contains all information and details of the original. With the result of Nefertiti on display for the first time in Egypt. The object was not a strict copy as a perfectly painted replica, which only mimics the original, but as cultural storage, which does not try to conceal its origin as a technological reproduction but embraces the value of the inherent information.

The 3D-print as a embodiment of the original form.

A 3D print made out of a 3D scan augments the object with the documentary quality of a photograph in three Dimensions. The copy is no slave to the original. A new discussion on the originality and truth of data as well as material objects of other cultures is necessary. In the end, one concludes the institutional practice is corrupted. Today's bais of colonial continuities is inherent in museums structures and collections all around the Global North.

postercampaignby Haus der Kulturen der Welt

download the dataset ︎ Nefertiti.obj

When we leaked the data at the CCC Congress, Europes largest Hacker Convention we didn't know if the public was actually interested in accessing, studying, printing or remixing the dataset. The piece went viral along with all the issues we were referring to and there was coverage on every continent which means there is a certain relevance for ancint artefact.

Before we exhibited the 3D print in Cairo and in order to open a discursive space in Egypt, we met with likeminded people and produced a video staging that we would have found the second bust of Nefertiti. Such a find is not implausible. Archeologists assume that the sculptor had created several busts — a prank to create a particular impact. We reached out to Dr. Monica Hanna, Egypt’s most renowned and outspoken Egyptologist when it comes to the fight against the illicit trade of antiquities. She advised us how to stage a real find of an artifact in a real ancient site in Egypt. After uploading the video, it was she who shared it for the first time on Twitter asking the question: What if another head of Nefertiti's head would have been found? That created a vivid debate. We choose Youtube to publish the video cause illicit traders use it as e-commerce service. We stressed this issue at every opportunity not because after weapons and drugs antiquities are the third largest illegal market in the world with more than 6 billion Euro estimated according to UNESCO, but the entangled biographies of mostly children forced to crawl into the tombs and this ends for some of them deadly.

After the exhibition our artistic undertaking in Egypt was an open end pointing towards futurity: we buried the 3D print in the Sahara desert as a poetic counter-act to the excavation. We delivered it back to the vast desert as a 'utopian place.' By this, we addressed the concept of ancient objects considered as deriving from dead cultures. It is very alienating in the heritage discourse that just through the separation towards contemporary culture “traditions” evolve, which we see as far away, irretrievable and precious.


Archaeologies, deal with the present, not the past; but this is a multi-temporal present, not one that sharply separated from the past; they also deal not only with the living people: who are engaging with these traces today, but also with traces of dead people, that is, a projection of their existence into the present.

Yannis Hamilakis

Contemporary people who are engaging with these traces today may have views regarding their treatment which must be respected, as indigenous archaeology is saying for years. More importantly, we engage with living animate and inanimate entities, not dead communities, people and things.
By leaking the data at the CCC Congress, Europes largest Hacker Convention we did not know if the public was interested in accessing, studying, printing or remixing the dataset. The story went viral along with all the issues we were referring to, and there was coverage on every continent which means there is a specific relevance for ancient artifact if activated in a meaningful way beyond the museological order.