The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has signed a historic agreement with the Yemeni government to temporarily keep and display four ancient Funerary Stones seized by police in east London and believed to have been looted from Yemen.
Dating back to the second half of the first millennium BCE, the stelae come from a Yemen necropolis that has been subject to recent looting. The objects were spotted in an interior design shop by an archaeology enthusiast and recovered by the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit.
Works are usually returned to their country of origin as soon as possible, but the Museum will now be able to display the rare artifacts at its V&A Storehouse in Stratford before they are sent back when it opens in 2025.
In a historic agreement with Yemen, the V&A will temporarily research and conserve the stones until it is safe to return them. The objects are of the type listed on the International Council of Museum’s emergency red list of cultural objects at risk.
They will be on view at V&A East Storehouse as part of the show “Culture in Crisis” through 2025. On Tuesday, the agreement was signed by the V&A’s director Tristram Hunt and the ambassador for Yemen in the UK Yassin Saeed Noman.
“This is a 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 program helps curtail the illegal trade of looted objects and the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide,” Hunt told the BBC.
Charles Harper, UK charge 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.”
The V&A’s Culture in Crisis, external programme was established in 2015 and looks to protect cultural heritage by working closely to support law-enforcement around the world to help prevent the illicit trade of cultural artefacts.
Cover Photo: Ancient funerary stelae looted from a Yemen necropolis. PHOTO: ED LYON/V&A MUSEUM IN LONDON