Arts & Culture

How Kim Kardashian Indirectly Brought Home Nedjemankh

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How Kim Kardashian Indirectly Brought Home Nedjemankh

This photo of Kim Kardashian standing with a gold Egyptian coffin at the 2018 Met Gala helped solve a long-running mystery.
Kim Kardashian standing by the gilded coffin of Nedjemankh | c. Landon Nordeman/Trunk Archive

Kim Kardashian is plenty of things, but crusader of obscure causes isn’t really her schtick. Still, by some divine, boozy stroke of luck, Kardashian helped blow the top off an artifact trafficking ring according to a recent podcast episode of Art Bust: Scandalous Stories of the Art World, run by renowned journalist Ben Lewis.

After a 2018 Met Gala photo was taken of the star – hip-popped, looking dazed – next to a solid gold sarcophagus, authorities began work on a case years in the making. Unwittingly, Kardashian had broken an international case wide-open.

The artifact she had benignly set herself up against was none other than the looted, gilded coffin of Nedjemankh, a Ptolemaic priest whose Minya tomb had been raided in 2011; the sarcophagus was among the many dug-up and trafficked items smuggled out of Egypt during the chaos of revolution. The coffin, which dates back to the first century BC, was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $4 million dollars by way of fake documentation.

Nedjemankh sarcophagus | c. Getty Images

A Middle Eastern informant was quick to notify Manhattan’s Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos of the photo. Irritated that they weren’t compensated for helping unearth the coffin, the informant was more than willing to speak out against the culprits who smuggled the coffin out of Egypt to begin with – and with that, the hunt began.

After pillaging the tomb in 2011, the coffin was sent to antiques dealer Hassan Fazeli in the United Arab Emirates. Fazeli reportedly “drew up fraudulent documents” before exporting the relic to Hamburg, Germany, where Roben Dib (manager of the Dionysus Gallery) allegedly faked the export license; the document stated that Nedjemankh’s sarcophagus had been legally exported in 1971.

From there, Nedjemankh was shipped off to France, where two antiques scholars Christophe Kunicki and Richard Semper sold it off to the Met. Bogdanos, who had been after this multinational smuggling ring for five years, was finally given closure after a mummified finger bone was found inside the coffin, helping identify its true origin.

German police took Roben Dib into immediate custody in August of 2020, soon after the coffin was returned to Cairo with apologies from Met CEO Daniel Weiss to the Egyptian people and antiques minister Khaled El-Enany.

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With a heart for radio and an appetite for culture, Mona is a writer and illustrator based in Cairo. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, she obtained a BSc and MA in Media, Culture, and Society, while actively writing for the faculty magazine. After graduating, Mona was an academic advisor at the American University in Cairo, as well as Managing Director of a small, campus-based advertising firm. Gears shifting, her knack for cultural research took over - enter: Egyptian Streets. Mona’s focus is tapered to issues of identity politics, culture, and social architecture.

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