The Victoria and Albert Museum is believed likely to return its collection of Asante gold regalia to Ghana. The treasures were first seized during a British raid of the Asante capital, Kumasi, in 1874.
The news comes after the V&A’s director, Tristram Hunt, visited Ghana earlier this year. During the visit, Hunt met with both the Ghanaian ministry of tourism, arts and culture, and the current Asante king, Osei Tutu II.
In the museum’s latest annual review, Hunt writes: “I visited Ghana to begin conversations about a renewable cultural partnership centred around the V&A collection of Asante court regalia, which entered the collection following the looting of Kumasi in 1874. 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. These treasures had been seized during a British punitive raid in 1874.”
Presently, most UK national museums are not unable to deaccession their own historical items as they are bound by restrictions in the 1983 National Heritage Act. This is the case for the V&A.
It means that, for now, the V&A can only offer a long-term loan of Asante treasures. How but eventually such loans might lead to a transfer of legal ownership. We can report that the V&A-Ghanaian discussions were partly facilitated by Ivor Agyeman-Duah, a Kumasi-born historian of Asante art and architecture. He served as an adviser to John Kufuor, a former president of Ghana (2001-09), and was a former director of the Ghana Museums & Monuments Board.
One of the sensitive issues that needs addressing is whether treasures returned from Britain should be displayed in the national capital, Accra, or the Asante capital, Kumasi.
There is also some debate about where these items should go on display, if they were returned. Kumasi is the capital of the Asante kingdom, but Accra is the capital of Ghana.
Ivor Agyeman-Duah, a Kumasi-born historian of Asante art and architecture who also served as an adviser under former Ghanian government, was involved in the discussions with the V&A. He told The Art Newspaper: “It is appropriate that they go to the palace in Kumasi.”
The destination in Kumasi would be the Manhyia Palace Museum, which served as the royal residence until 1970 and in 1995 became a museum. Since last year, the Manhyia Palace has been under refurbishment, upgrading their security and environmental conditions, which will pave the way for loans of more valuable items.