Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper writes that London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has offered to return valuable artifacts to Ethiopia that were looted by the British during the 1868 Battle of Maqdala. The items would be on long-term loan to the country, yet still owned by the museum. The gesture is forcing other institutions throughout the UK, such as the British Library and the British Museum, to reconsider certain policies on the stolen Ethiopian objects in their collections. The Victoria and Albert is also opening an exhibition to mark the battle’s 150th anniversary on April 5. During the battle, seven hundred Ethiopian soldiers were murdered.
The museum’s director, Tristram Hunt, said, “It behooves an institution like the V&A to reflect on this imperial past, to be open about this history and to interpret that history. We should not to be afraid of history, even if it is complicated and challenging. As an institution, we should have the bravery to deal with it.”
Ethiopia’s ambassador to the UK, Hailemichael Aberra Afework, said, “We were consulted about the V&A exhibition from its inception, and we appreciate that these sacred treasures will now be on display. We hope they will be of great interest to the British public. Ethiopia has been demanding the return of all treasures taken from Maqdala for some years now.” The ambassador went on to say that claims on the pieces—signed by Ethiopia’s president—were submitted a decade ago and sent to the Victoria and Albert, the British Library, and the British Museum.