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.

Fossil Futures

Decolonized Dinosaurs walking into the Museum of Bones

The dinosaur serves as speculative material for renegotiating ideas of extinction and post-humanism, commodification and exoticism as well as the colonial past and presence. Through their mounting in Western museums, the dinosaurs came back into existence in the collective consciousness and are meanwhile serving as a totem animal for modernity, as a dinosaur phantasma.

“The dinosaur can be best understood as the totem animal of modern culture, a creature that unites modern science with mass culture, empirical knowledge with collective fantasy, rational methods with ritual practices.”

W.J.T. Mitchell

We were commissioned by the community of Tendaguru in Southern Tanzania to initiate a re-centering, a reclaiming of territories, where over 100 years back German and British colonizers extracted 230 tons of dinosaur bones and put them in European museums. After this act of ‘cultural fracking’ this area today is a disputed territory again, where land grabbing by multinationals lead by the Worldbank and severe displacement of the population started taking place only recently (because of new “discoveries” of resources). The site is regarded as sacred heritage by the community, but also politicians are aware of the relevance of the site as one of the largest sites where dinosaur bones were found in the world. As in the case of the Northern American indigenous Lakota, the communities at Tendaguru knew about the bones but never dug them up. Because to them they were spiritual objects (or gods who created humankind in the case of the Lakota). Some researchers describe the excavations of bones as blatant acts of land appropriation.

View from Tendaguru Hill, Tanzania.

In cooperation with the regional government in Lindi and affiliates from the University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg we initiate a transformation of Tendaguru into what is called participatory, self-managed forest reserve to activate the space in situ. Overcome an indigenisation or a romanticized view of technology, immersiveness and nature. The decolonized museum in the Tanzanian bush is an investigative and indigenous narration and re-imagining of a museum. We started to use technology amidst nature, anticipating possible non-anthropocentric futures for non-invasive and multi sensory experiences. The idea is to create new platforms of representation of the subaltern, places of constant negotiation instead of echoing the conventional yet vicious museum and to protect the community and the area from land grabbing threats. Tanzania will thereby create and get one of the early Virtual Reality museums and heritage places and probably the first decolonial and critical one. The museum hence can be visited from all over the world as a VR experience, the indigenous narratives will be spread and told and the revenue from the VR experience goes directly back to the village at stake.

1.) Denny Gayton, Standing Rock, North America 2.) Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University, USA 3.) Prof. W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago, USA 4.) Prof. Ciraj Rassool, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

These interviews are part of an artistic research for the ‚Fossil Futures‘ project by the artist duo Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al-Badri. For them, the dinosaur activates a public dialogue on the meaning of extinction and extraction, also in terms of a “cultural fracking” related to a hierarchies of indigenous knowledge and the role of Western science.The material results from research (funded by Haus der Kulturen der Welt), at the Tendaguru Beds in Tanzania, a former German colony that was the site of systematic excavations of dinosaur bones during the colonial era as well as research conducted in the USA.We were commissioned by the people of Tendaguru in Southern Tanzania, and we call this undertaking „Fossil Futures“, to initiate a re-centering, a reclaiming of territories, which are currently occupied by multinationals and the World Bank directly at Tendaguru and where ,cultural fracking’ took place through German museums. In cooperation with the regional government and affiliates from the University of Witwaterstrand Johannesburg and the community we plan to initiate a transformation of Tendaguru into what is called participatory forest reserve to activate the space in situ and overcome an indigenisation or a romanticized view of technology, immersiveness and nature. The museum in the Tanzanian bush is an investigative narration and re-imagining of a museum rather than an actual institution. Even though the locality and the topos plays a crucial role with regards to re-centering in the postcolonial realm, our aim to use technology amidst nature is to anticipate possible non-anthropocentric futures as an experience to contribute to a collective imaginary through what we call technoheritage. Thus to create new platforms of (re)presentation of the subaltern instead of echoing the conventional yet vicious museum.


A decolonial chatbot

NefertitiBot is a chatbot which seeks to take over the power of interpretational sovereignty from administrative and curatorial museums structures. A bot through which material objects of other cultures in museums of the Global North start speaking for themselves shaking off the violent and ugly colonial patina by deconstructing the fiction inherent in institutional narratives and challenging the politics of representation. With the development of the Nefertiti AI & avatar, the artists are asking unsettling questions about the state of humanity and discuss the agency of inanimate things and post-humanism, challenging the way of seeing the world human-centric. Objects of entangled and disputed collections start speaking for themselves, and machines will transcend biases it might affect us in the marrow of our bones and reveal the darkness in our minds, and the unjust condition humankind created. Where machines not only will be super-intelligent but more human towards the world and all its inhabitants. It will be a transition from a failing human towards a new species. At the very moment, this future arrives their depiction and avatars will be already present, their voices will sound familiar to us.

The bot can be installed in museums alongside ancient artifacts and collections to push the audience towards critical awareness and as a voice of the subaltern, making indigenous and alternative stories of objects visible.

The bot has a Persona and works as a prototype for museums as a new mediator tool and interface, complementing or replacing the curator and written display texts. The NefertitiBot with its neuronal AI capabilities and a self-learning system could be described as simultaneously a voice of the subaltern taking on an agency for objects, opposing the dominant narrative as well as experimenting towards post-authorship in curatorial practice and interpretational sovereignty. 

In order to democratize not only art but also technology the artist work together with a whole community of developers and open source activists. One motivation of the community as well as of the artists is, that it will be crucial that these technologies are not only created, developed, and distributed by a few multinational software companies or governmental services, but formed by the people. Hence NefertitiBot is not only challenging the politics of representation, but the politics of technology as well
The artists
regard the agency of inanimate things as a part of the subaltern, which is more than humans, but every-thing and every-body outside the colony and thus misrepresented by the dominant narrative. The NefertitiBot is a digital embodiment of the human-artefact interaction, where artefacts are not marginalized to their materiality nor to their social and cultural construction and meaning made by humans as a mere epiphenomenon to humans.

First phase ofdevelopment was supported by “State Machines” with Creative Europe and Schloss Solitude

Visual Representation of the NefertitiBot® interface. 

Sunken Drums Of Atlantis

What can we learn from the ocean?
How we sense the sea?
in preparation...

Not A Single Bone

2017, civil disobedience intervention + exhibition
To reclaim the museum a public space again. A large specimen, a two-meter-long replica from the femur of the Brachiosaurus at Natural History Museum Berlin is evidence of appropriating data from the museum collections despite them denying access on request. The artists reproduced parts of the skeleton based on the data of the museum with the aim to disentangle the objects biographies from the institutional interpretation sovereignty.
The intervention published at a solo-show ‘NOT A SINGLE BONE,’ exhibition at Nome Gallery, by Nora Al-Badri and Nikolai Nelles, September 9 – November 11, 2017.

︎Catalog download, PDF