10.32 AM Saturday, 18 May 2024
  • City Fajr Shuruq Duhr Asr Magrib Isha
  • Dubai 04:07 05:29 12:18 15:42 19:01 20:24
18 May 2024

Looted Artifacts, Returned to Yemen, Will Go to the Smithsonian, for Now

USA returns to the custody of the Yemeni authorities 77 looted artifacts

By News Agencies

As the pressure on museums and collectors to return looted artifacts to their countries of origin has grown in recent years, one issue that has arisen is whether some countries are equipped to accept them immediately. To address this issue, the Smithsonian Institution announced on Tuesday that it will return 77 looted artifacts to the government of the Republic of Yemen, though their physical return will be delayed during the current violent conflict there.

The objects, which were seized from a New York art dealer over a decade ago, include 65 funerary stelae, a bronze bowl, and 11 folios from early Qurans, all of which date back to the second half of the first millennium B.C. The artifacts will be housed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art in Washington for at least the next two years, during which time some of them may be put on display.

While the new partnership represents the first return of cultural objects by the U.S. government to Yemen in nearly 20 years, the ongoing conflict in the country means that Yemen is not yet ready to receive the artifacts. As such, the Smithsonian will store, document, and care for the objects, and will be able to exhibit them to foster a greater understanding of ancient Yemeni art.

Yemen is currently trying to emerge from an eight-year civil conflict between the government, backed by Saudi Arabia, and a well-armed rebel group called the Houthis. The war has claimed over 200,000 lives and left much of the country's infrastructure in ruins, as well as leading to heavy looting and destruction of its tangible cultural heritage. While the current situation in Yemen is tragic, the new partnership between the Smithsonian and the Yemeni government provides a small moment of collaboration and hope.

During a ceremony at the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, the objects were turned over to the custody of the National Museum of Asian Art, with officials from the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, State, and Justice in attendance. The initial two-year custodial agreement, which Yemen can request to extend, will enable the Smithsonian to care for the objects, which can be exhibited to raise awareness about ancient Yemeni art.

As museums have increasingly embraced the repatriation of objects stolen from other countries or acquired under disputed circumstances, the Smithsonian has sought to be a prominent voice in the debate about how and when objects should be returned. The institution's secretary, Lonnie G. Bunch III, has announced that he wants the museums to update their collection practices and has adopted an ethical returns policy that places fairness above any legal title to objects the institution might possess.

Following this policy, the Smithsonian announced last year that it would return 29 Benin Bronzes from its own collections to Nigeria, though nine remain on loan at the Smithsonian.