Nas is at the center of controversy after a European art exhibit used his likeness in a King Tut-inspired statue. The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands, recently opened up its Kemet: Egypt in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul and Funk exhibit, which explores the connection between “music by Black artists whose work refers to ancient Egypt and Nubia.”

Naturally, hip-hop music videos, album covers, photographs and contemporary artworks are displayed. One of the showcased pieces is a bust of the Egyptian Pharoh King Tutankhamun by artist Dave Cortes. The face of the statue is reminiscent of the album cover for Nas’s 1999 studio project,  I Am…, sparking backlash since its debut.

Egyptian antiquities expert Abd al-Rahim Rihan said the museum insulted “Egyptian civilization by portraying Tutankhamun as Black” and “cloning an Egyptian antiquity,” as reported by the Egyptian Independent.

Rihan went on to say that the artwork violated Article 39 of the Protection of Antiquities Law No. 117 of 1983 and its amendments. The law stipulates that “only the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt may produce modern models of antiquities, provided that it is stamped by it.”

Despite criticism, the museum’s director Wim Weijland is defending the exhibit. “The exhibition does not claim the ancient Egyptians were Black, but explores music by Black artists who refer to ancient Egypt and Nubia in their work: music videos, covers of record albums, photos, and contemporary artworks,” he told ArtNet. “The exhibition also acknowledges that the music can be perceived as cultural appropriation, and recognizes that large groups of contemporary Egyptians feel that the pharaonic past is exclusively their heritage.”

He also explained the connection between Black hip-hop artists and the African diaspora, which includes Egypt: “This music often reflects on the Black experience in the West and tells stories about the African diaspora and pre-colonial Africa, including ancient Egypt. The exhibition explains that the representations of ancient Egypt are imaginaries: artistic interpretations of ancient Egypt, not realistic images of ancient Egyptians.”

He added, “For example, the exhibition contains a modern sculpture that represents the musician Nas, modeled after the mask of Tutankhamun. The exhibition explains that it is a contemporary artwork, not a replica. The exhibition explains why and when it was made and clarifies that it is not an ancient Egyptian artifact.”

Dr. Daniel Soliman, the Egyptian and Nubian collection’s curator, who is half-Egyptian, emphasized that the exhibit is only providing a space for people to present art from different perspectives. “It’s very important that Egyptians in Egypt and Egyptians in the diaspora are included in talks about ancient Egypt, because it’s undeniable how they feel a connection,” he said in an interview The Art Newspaper. “And in fact, we’ve always tried to do this.”