Unesco unveils plans for virtual museum of stolen objects - Museums Association

Unesco unveils plans for virtual museum of stolen objects

Site aims to help strengthen advocacy for the return of looted cultural property
Crime Illicit Trade
Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay
Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay Unesco/Christelle ALIX

Unesco has revealed further details of its plan to create a virtual museum of stolen cultural objects. 

The organisation, which promotes international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture, first announced the creation of the museum at a conference on cultural policies and sustainable development held in Mexico in September last year.

The aim of the virtual museum is to help put the subject of illicit trafficking of cultural property at the heart of the international agenda.

“Behind every stolen artwork or artefact lies a piece of history, a piece identity and humanity that has been wrenched from its custodians, made inaccessible to research and risks being forgotten forever,” said Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay.

“Through this museum, we want to place these artworks back in the spotlight and restore the right of societies to access their own heritage, experience it and see themselves reflected in it.”

In its first phase, the interactive museum, which will be unveiled in mid-2025, will feature about 600 works of art on the list of Interpol, the international police organisation.


These will be cultural goods of particular importance, whose disappearance or theft represent a significant impoverishment of the cultural heritage for communities and countries.

Azoulay said: "While this virtual exhibition won’t make up for the physical lack of these artworks, it will at least restore fundamental access to them and help strengthen advocacy for their return.

"It's about imagining a museum in a way that’s never been done before, where the presentation of each artwork is a deep dive into its universe, into the cultural and social movements from which it was born."

Unesco has chosen architect Francis Kéré, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2022, to create the museum.

The design will be based around the form of a baobab tree, a symbol of resilience and central to the lives of many African communities. 

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