It isn’t uncommon for museums to insist on keeping pieces of their collection even if they haven’t been acquired in good faith. However, Los Angeles’ Fowler Museum at UCLA recently took a different approach by returning seven stolen artifacts to Ghana, the country of their origin.
The artifacts—two gold ornaments, a gold necklace, two bracelets, an elephant tail whisk, and an ornamental chair—have been stolen by British forces during their 1874 pillaging of the royal palace in Kumasi, Asante empire, which is now part of modern-day Ghana. The items were later donated to the Fowler Museum in 1965 by the Wellcome Trust, which was set up in honor of pharmaceutical entrepreneur and art collector Henry Wellcome.
Recently, Fowler Museum embarked on an extensive review of its collection of African art and learned the true nature of the artifacts from the Asante empire. The museum acted swiftly, opting to return the artifacts to their rightful owners. The museum officials traveled to Kumasi, meeting with reigning Asante king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and delivering the stolen objects.
“At the Fowler, we think of ourselves as temporary custodians of the objects in our collection. In the case of pieces that were violently or coercively taken from their original owners or communities, it is our ethical responsibility to do what we can to return those objects. It is a process that will occupy generations of Fowler staff, but it is something that we are unwavering in our commitment to accomplish,” Erica P. Jones, senior curator of African Art at Fowler Museum, said in a statement.