CAIRO: Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass responded to what he referred to as “rumors” that artifacts from the King Tutankhamun Exhibition in New York City were used in a photo shoot to promote his clothing line.
Hawass is the latest of officials being accused of abuse of power after he used the King Tut Exhibit for a photo shoot and allegedly jeopardized the artifacts for his personal commercial gain.
The Ministry of State for Antiquities, as well as Hawass, released a statement commenting on the issue saying that none of the authentic antiquities were handled during the shoot, as they served only as background, while only replica pieces were used by the models.
The statement said the shoot was in accordance with “legal and security procedures and security standards applied in international museums.” The photographer involved had written on his website that the shoot was authorized by Hawass.
The ministry statement also said that Hawass is not making any profit out of the clothing line whose profits are going to the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital.
These claims were also supported by Art Zulu, the agency hired to design the clothing line, the photographer who shot the photos as well as the director of the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital.
Lora Flaugh, founder and chief executive officer of Art Zulu, told Daily News Egypt in an email interview that the idea came when John Norman and Andres Numhauser, from Arts and Exhibitions International, learned that several hundreds of Zahi Hawass signed hats were being sold at the King Tut exhibition’s gift shop in New York, with all proceeds going directly to the new Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo. They then approached Hawass with the idea of creating a clothing line bearing his name.
“Zahi Hawass accepted but stipulated that any of the profits would have to go to charity, just like the profits from the sale of his hats goes to charity. He designated the Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo as the beneficiary. Dr. Hawass is not receiving any money or personally benefiting from his association with this clothing line,” explained Flaugh.
In the ministry’s statement, Hawass said that he coordinated with Dr Sherif Aboul Naga, director of the hospital, regarding the project.
“Zahi Hawass told me earlier that he wants to do a project for the hospital and then the clothing line project came about, whose proceeds will be going to the Children’s Cancer Hospital,” Aboul Naga told Daily News Egypt.
However, the hospital is yet to receive any profit from the ‘Zahi Hawass’ men’s clothing line that was launched this month at the upscale Harrods in London.
“He [Hawass] has always been in touch with me and helping us out with the fundraising in the United States and with the commercials for the hospital,” Aboul Naga said.
Hawass said on his website that he “asked Lora to put an announcement next to where the clothing will be sold explaining how the profits will go to fund the hospital.”
Art Zulu was tasked with designing a clothing line around Hawass’ image as a renowned archeologist.
“While developing the design for the clothing line last year we needed to hold a photo shoot to create a catalog to promote the brand. Approval was arranged with the organizers of the King Tut exhibition in New York at the Discovery Times Exposition Hall, and we were told that we could do so after hours, but needed to have the head of security and the head of operations present,” Flaugh said.
A campaign led by activists and the media called for filing a complaint to the Prosecutor General against Hawass for allegedly “endangering Egyptian artifacts.”
The campaign was launched by blogger Haitham Yahia who reportedly said that “Hawass allowed the illegal use of Egyptian artifacts for the promotion of a menswear fashion line that carries his name and is produced by a company named Art Zulu.”
Flaugh, however, pointed out that the safety of the artifacts was the primary concern of the design house.
“The entire time that we were there, the exhibit’s head of security was with us. He was there to safeguard the artifacts themselves and also informed me about the safety features that the items behind glass had in them.”
According to Flaugh, if the protective glass surrounding the artifact was jarred, bumped, or moved in any way, it would trigger an alarm alerting the police and fire department. As for temperature control, the items inside the glass were not to exceed 70 degrees; if the temperature inside the glass reached 71 degrees, it would also trigger an alarm.
These controls are inherent in all of the artifacts behind glass. The entire King Tut Exhibit is temperature controlled for the safety of the artifacts.
“That being said, the artifacts were never in any danger of damage from heat or being touched. These safety measures were in place at the King Tut Exhibit prior to and after our shoot. Additionally, the chair and the bench used in the photos were replicas purchased at a furniture store in New York,” explained Flaugh.
Hawass confirmed, in a press statement by the Ministry of State for Antiquities, that Tutankhamun’s chair is unique and hence prohibited from being part of any traveling exhibit.
James Weber, the New York-based photographer who shot the photos on Oct. 7 last year, explained on his website that he and the exhibit’s staff and curators held a three-hour production meeting prior to the shoot during which their concerns were addressed regarding what was and what was not allowed to be photographed, as well as concerns regarding the lighting used inside of the exhibit area.
“The only original artifacts used in the shoots were [used] as background. None were ever touched. The chair and the bench that we used are replicas. We never would have sat a model down in a 3,000 year-old artifact. We would have also never had the chance. All the artifacts, such as the chairs you speak of are protected under glass,” Weber explained.
“There was also some photoshop involved in some of the images. The one photo where [the model’s] foot is up in what looks like a Hieroglyphics wall, that’s a photograph of the Hieroglyphics wall, mixed with a photo I took of the model,” he added.
Furthermore, he clarified that flash photography was not used during the shoot as it is not permitted inside the museum.
“We were not allowed to use flash. I used an Arri Light which would not cause any damage to the artifacts,” wrote Weber, noting that he kept it at a good distance. Arri Light is a small tungsten studio light source, he explained.
Weber has also stated that he has never met Hawass in person and that Hawass wasn’t at the shoot at any time, but has authorized the shoot and made arrangements with the head of security.
“Now, months later, stories about this photo shoot are circulating, claiming that it happened in the Egyptian Museum, and that they had a model sit on actual antiquities. I can say firmly that of course none of this is true,” Hawass said in his statement.
“It makes me sad that people are willing to believe such rumors, and I hope that the clothing line’s critics will understand that the intention of this project is for the good of the children,” Hawass added.
Weber said that photoshop was also used to modify the images.