The V&A and Republic of Yemen

September 12, 2023

The V&A and Republic of Yemen announce historic agreement to research and care for four ancient objects ahead of their safe return

Today marks an important moment as the V&A signs a historic agreement with the Republic of Yemen, to research and temporarily care for four objects that are likely to have been looted from their country of origin, and illicitly trafficked to London.

Two of the four funerary stelae, one held to the camera for a closer look

Serenella Sessini, V&A East Assistant Curator, with two ancient funerary stelae which were likely illegally looted from the Republic of Yemen. Part of a group of four, likely dating from the second half of the first millennium BCE. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London   

The objects, four ancient carved funerary stelae, which most likely date to the second half of the first millennium BCE, were discovered by an archaeology enthusiast in an interior design shop in East London, and recovered by The Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, which investigates art theft, illegal trafficking and fraud.

Through an active collaboration between the V&A, the Republic of Yemen and the police, the works will be exhibited at V&A East Storehouse from 2025, as part of a new display on Culture in Crisis – the V&A’s programme dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide.

The agreement sees the V&A take responsibility for the care for the stelae on a temporary basis, until the Republic of Yemen deems it is safe to return objects to their country of origin. 

Since 2015 our Culture in Crisis Programme has been committed to protecting the world’s cultural heritage and supporting communities that suffer cultural loss, whether through conflict, criminal acts or the impacts of the climate crisis. We work closely to support law-enforcement, nationally and internationally, to develop strategies to prevent the illicit trade of cultural goods.

Each year we programme events and conferences, offer international training opportunities and coordinate a network of heritage professionals working across the globe to safeguard heritage, providing a forum for sharing information, inspiring and supporting action and raising public awareness.

Today, however, is just the beginning. Between now and our eventual display of the objects in 2025, we look forward to working with our Yemeni partners to curate a display that speaks to the importance of Yemeni cultural heritage, as well as the risks it faces currently. We will explore the negative impacts that cultural loss can have on communities as well as highlight the importance of safeguarding this heritage for the future.

We’ll be back in touch over the next year to update you all on our research and progress.

You can read more about our work on Culture in Crisis pages here and here.

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