Ambassador Teferi reaffirms Ethiopia’s claim to Maqdala treasures at the V&A

2 Nov 2020

On 29th October, Ambassador Teferi visited the world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum, and met the Museum’s Director, Dr Tristram Hunt.

The V&A (and other UK national collections) houses a number of priceless treasures seized by the British Army at the Battle of Maqdala in 1868.

Ambassador Teferi and Dr Hunt engaged in a productive discussion on how best to revitalise the Government of Ethiopia’s claim to the Maqdala treasures.

I am here to thank and appreciate the V&A for the remarkable manner in which it continues to look after the Maqdala treasures, and to repeat and underline my Government’s fervid claim to the Maqdala treasures.”

Ambassador Teferi Melesse Desta

Dr Hunt thanked the Ambassador for his visit, and expressed the “V&A’s readiness to revamp its working relations with the Ethiopian Embassy”, offering to explore a new bilateral proposal for future partnership.

Later, in a social media post, Dr Hunt said, “Great honour to host H.E. Ambassador Teferi at the V&A to discuss Maqdala collection and how we can work together to ensure these artefacts can in the future be seen in Ethiopia.”

…V&A committed to further consultations on return of Maqdala artefacts

Spurred by the exemplary relations between Ethiopia and the UK, the Embassy has been engaging proactively with the V&A since 2018, as part of efforts to explore avenues for cooperation.

In April 2018, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the events at Maqdala, the V&A launched a year-long display of 20 rare Maqdala artefacts and expressed its support of a long-term loan request to Ethiopia of the artefacts.

A year later in March 2019, Her Excellency Dr Hirut Kassaw, Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport, made her debut visit to the United Kingdom where she visited cultural institutions and museums, including the V&A.

The Minister met Dr Hunt and his team, to continue discussions on the return of Maqdala artefacts. Dr Hunt  on the occasion expressed the sincere desire of the Museum to see these artefacts on display in Ethiopia soon, but noted, with regret, that the biggest obstacle to fully returning them was the present status of the law in the UK which prohibits restitution.

Dr Hunt, however, committed to continuing consultations with the Minister, her team and the Embassy going forward on the restitution issue.

…museums must start telling a more honest story about provenance, V&A deputy director

In related news, while speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival earlier in October about the return of the treasures, Tim Reeve, the deputy director of the V&A, said that museums must start telling a more honest story about provenance.

“There is no dispute about whether or not they were borrowed; they were looted and that’s a story we have tried to tell very openly and very honestly at the V&A.”

Tim Reeve

“Provenance is a big area for museums to invest in researching where these objects come from and how they came to be in these national collections, being able to tell a much more rounded, holistic, accurate and honest story about those objects.”

Reeve said a long-term loan was being discussed as an initial step to returning the treasures, given the V&A and other national museums were forbidden in UK law to simply return items in perpetuity.

“We are in very close discussions with the Ethiopian embassy about those artefacts and how they might in due course find their way back to Ethiopia,” he said.

“A long loan of those objects as a sort of an initial step is the kind of thing we want to discuss if the right kind of conditions are there and they are in agreement with the Ethiopian embassy.”

“The next step is exactly as we’re doing with Maqdala which is to try and work out a way forward, a long-term solution for those objects.”

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