Victoria & Albert Museum in Discussions to Return Artifacts to Ghana

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is in talks to potentially return a collection of Asante gold artifacts that were looted during a British military raid of the Ghanian city Kumasi in 1874.

News of the potential repatriation follows a visit from the British museum’s director, Tristram Hunt, to Ghana earlier this year. Hunt met with officials of Ghana’s ministry of tourism, arts and culture, as well as the current Asante king, Osei Tutu II. The objects were seized from a royal court in Kumsai before entering the museum’s collection in the late 19th century.

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“We are optimistic that a new partnership model can forge a potential pathway for these important artefacts to be on display in Ghana in the coming years,” Hunt wrote in a director’s foreword published in the museum’s annual 2021-2022 review.

According to a report by The Artnewspaper, the discussions were in part facilitated by the Ghanian art historian Ivor Agyeman-Duah. The museum has declined to specify any further details. A further announcement on the return may come later this year, the UK-based outlet reported.

The V&A, along with other UK national museums, is currently restricted from deaccessioning art objects from its permanent collections due to a 1983 law that is meant to keep historical artifacts in British national institutions from being exported. The law does not have an exception for cultural repatriations.

Under the current set of legal standards, the V&A is only able to exchange the Asante artifacts as part of a long term loan agreement with the Ghanian government. But such loans could result in the transfer of legal title from one country to the next.

The V&A is among a handful of institutions holding objects that were believed to have been looted in the 19th century. An ornate gold crown taken from Ethiopia around 1868 has been the subject of calls for restitution since 2007.

Hunt floated a potential long-term loan of the disputed Maqdala-era artifact back to the East African country in 2018. The British Museum holds a large collection of Asante objects of which around 100 were seized during the military conflict in 1874.

Hunt, who previously served as a member of the British Parliament and has served as the museum’s director since 2017, has openly debated the legal policies around UK art restitution. In July during an interview with BBC, he called calling the current legal standard “unsatisfactory.”


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