Thursday, 4 October 2012
My name is Ruth Thomas and I am Chair of Northamptonshire Ancient Egyptian Society. I speak both in this role and as a museum professional.
Northampton is one of the largest towns in the UK and has a diverse and cosmopolitan population. We are proud of this diversity and keen to celebrate it.
In fact, even when the town itself shied away from promoting ethnic groups other than its own host population Northampton Museum collected widely from across the world and was at the forefront in providing expression to this multi-ethnicity.
Our collections have been drawn from the four corners of the earth, whether it be the superb Chinese pottery horse of the Tang dynasty, the Hindu sculpture of Devi or the Italian renaissance paintings. For over a century the museum has not been small-minded and parochial in its collecting policy but aware of its role in promoting Northampton’s multi-cultural approach in a multi-cultural town.
And this is why the sale of the ancient Egyptian scribe Sekhemka is such a retrograde step.
Sekhemka stands alone in its quality, antiquity and craftsmanship. It is part of a civilisation which existed on the continent of Africa for over two thousand years. For children of African and African Caribbean heritage this is unique opportunity to reconnect with their own roots and to understand that Northampton Museum has something which represents not only British history but encompasses the achievements of people from across the world.
It also gives the message that Northampton Museum is aware of its role in educating and inspiring all the people of the town – as one school pupil said to me as he admired Sekhemka on a group trip for the National Curriculum “Oh I didn’t know you did Egypt”. Well, we should do Egypt and a whole lot more.
The removal of Sekhemka from the museum is a dramatic and signal move away from a world view of our history to a small-minded and elitist approach which will inevitably alienate our visitors and supporters in the years to come. This is what really concerns all of us here tonight.