V&A agrees deal with Yemen to display looted artefacts - Museums Association

V&A agrees deal with Yemen to display looted artefacts

Funerary objects found in London shop will be repatriated when Yemen deems it safe to do so
Collections Conflict Repatriation
The ancient stone items were recovered from an interior design shop in east London
The ancient stone items were recovered from an interior design shop in east London (c) Victoria And Albert Museum, London

London's Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has signed a deal with the Republic of Yemen to care for four looted objects ahead of their safe return to the country.

The arrangement will see the V&A temporarily research, care for and conserve the carved stone funerary stelae, which were recovered by the Metropolitan Police from an interior design shop in east London.

An investigation established the objects are from Yemen, and came from necropoli that have been subjected to looting in recent years as the civil war in the country continues. They are thought to date from the second half of the first millennium BCE.

The works will be exhibited to the public as part of Culture in Crisis, a rotating programme dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide, which will be at the new V&A East Storehouse from 2025. 

They will be returned to their country of origin once the Republic of Yemen deems it safe to do so. Peace talks are currently underway in an effort to bring the nine-year civil war and humanitarian crisis to an end.

The agreement is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK; in similar cases, objects have been stored by museums for a short time before being repatriated. The V&A partnership will enable further research and conservation, with the potential for the objects to be enjoyed by the public. 


The items are of the type listed on the International Council of Museum's Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk. They were found in the shop by an archaeology enthusiast and recovered by the Met's Art and Antiques Unit, which investigates art theft, illegal trafficking and fraud. 

The agreement was signed by the director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, and Yassin Saeed Noman Ahmed, ambassador for the Republic of Yemen based in the UK.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the Republic of Yemen’s Embassy in the UK and the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit to store, research and display these four incredible ancient carved funerary stelae," said Hunt.

"This is an historic agreement that will give the public the chance to appreciate these exceptional examples of Yemeni culture and creativity, before the objects are repatriated, and shine a light on how the V&A’s Culture in Crisis programme helps curtail the illegal trade of looted objects and the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide.”

Charles Harper, UK Chargé d'affaires and deputy ambassador to Yemen, said: “Arts and culture can play an important role in rebuilding a society from conflict and this agreement is a fantastic way to ensure Yemeni culture remains in Yemeni care.”

Opening in 2025, the V&A East Storehouse is one of two new V&A sites currently under construction in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London. 

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