The Nubian Museum near Aswan, in southern Egypt, the world’s primary reservoir for Nubian history, art, and culture, has been forging ties with important American museums. These connections were developed by Ossama Abdel Meguid, the director of the Nubian Museum since its founding in 1997, when he secured a Fulbright scholarship to visit two Boston area institutions for five months in 2005 – 2006. While the Nubian Museum has been described in the Egyptian press, an unusual article a few weeks ago in the Bay State Banner, a Massachusetts magazine, also focused on the Egyptian facility and its American connections.
Evidently the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston preserves an outstanding archive of materials relating to Nubian archaeology, second only in the world to the museum near Aswan. George Reisner, a Harvard scholar, conducted the first archaeological surveys of Nubia in 1907 – 08. The MFA holds the photographs, maps, and diaries of his 40 years excavating over 1,000 ancient tombs in Nubia. Because the materials he excavated were divided with the Egyptians, immense amounts of important Nubian artifacts wound up in Massachusetts. Meguid’s research in Boston supplemented his work at his own institution in Egypt.
While he was in the Boston area, Meguid also visited the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Roxbury. That museum features a display of the burial chamber of the Nubian pharaoh Aspelta. The director of the Roxbury museum, Edmund Barry Gaither, emphasizes to young black visitors that they descend from kings and queens, and he points to the museum’s Nubian pharaoh exhibit as evidence.
The magazine article ties together the Nubian focus of the two Massachusetts facilities with a description of the Nubian Museum. Kenneth J. Cooper, the author of the article, was most impressed by the outdoor displays on the grounds of the Egyptian facility. A replica of a Nubian house, for instance, includes traditional artistic designs painted into the mud surface of the building. Prehistoric rock art paintings and sculptures, rescued from Old Nubia before the flood waters of Lake Nasser rose to inundate them, have been embedded in a mock cave on the museum grounds.
The article quotes Rita Freed, an official at the MFA, about the importance of the Nubian collections in her museum and in the one at Aswan. The two museums, she said, care for most of the world’s Nubian materials. She praised Meguid and his proposal to study at the MFA. “He was a delight to have,” she said. “He instantly became one of the museum family” during his five-month visit.
She added, about the Nubian Museum in Egypt, that it “does a lot to keep the old Nubian customs, Nubian language and Nubian identity alive … so that Nubia remains a living tradition, not something that lives in the memories of grandparents.”