The Victoria and Albert Museum has responded to government pressure to align itself with its stance on “disputed heritage” by insisting that it has a responsibility to accurately explain the nature of its collections, including items that it said were looted. by British forces.
The V&A was responding to a controversial letter from culture secretary Oliver Dowden suggesting that agencies could lose government funding if they did not meet the line and cautioned against “actions motivated by activism or politics.”
The London-based museum, one of many positions under the spotlight amid an often heated debate surrounding calls for museum decolonization, told Dowden: “Our view is that it is impossible and ahistorical trying to ‘decolonize’ a museum like the V&A given its fundamental connection to the history of British imperialism.
“Instead, our responsibility is to ensure that we explain the nature of our collections, with historical rigor and precision, in a way that addresses modern, multicultural Britain and the global audience we serve in South Kensington and online.” .
The letter from the V&A director, former Labor MP Tristram Hunt, was one of several responses to Dowden from museums and galleries that were released in the wake of The Guardian’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).
Hunt also told Dowden that the V&A had not removed any items from the contested heritage as a result of the pressures, going on to list the artifacts, including the Maqdala treasures, which entered the museum after they were seized during a British military campaign in Ethiopia in 1868 and the Asante Gold Weights, which Hunt described as being looted from Ghana.
Hunt also shared with Dowden a copy of a document that he said he had recently sent to the V&A board of trustees on the issue of repatriation and restitution, although it was not published in the FoI statement. The letter is understood to refer to negotiations with foreign governments over the items in your collection.
Sir Richard Lambert, president of the British Museum, wrote to Dowden to tell him that the museum’s board of trustees took careful note of his views “and agreed that we have no intention of removing controversial objects from public display.” .
In August last year, the museum removed a bust of its founding father, who owned slaves, and said he wanted to confront his ties to colonialism. Sir Hans Sloane’s image has been placed in a secure cabinet along with artifacts that explain his work in the context of the British Empire.
Matthew Westerman, chairman of the board of trustees of the Imperial War Museums (IWM), told Dowden: “Given its competence and collection, IWM considers itself an expert in getting through controversial, challenging and controversial narratives. Perhaps more than any other museum in the UK, through our collection and personal stories we are used to facing difficult pasts and bringing our audiences to life. “
He added that the IWMs potentially had fewer examples of contested narratives given the museums’ founding in the early 1900s. Much of the rest of the letter, which the IWM has said was not related to the disputed estate, was drafted from FoI’s statement.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism