Fowler Ashanti Returns

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Object or Group Name

Fowler Ashanti Returns

Case Summary

In February 2024, the Fowler Museum of UCLA voluntarily returned seven objects to Ghana that had been looted by British forces during the Sagrenti War (or the Third Anglo-Ashanti War) of 1874.

Thanks to a 2019 grant from the Mellon Foundation, Fowler curators conducted extensive research into the museum's colonial-era African collection, including these seven pieces that were either looted or extorted from the Asante during the Sagrenti War.

The British had seized four of the objects—a whisk, chair and bracelets—on February 5, 1874. The other three—the gold stool ornaments and gold necklace—were taken as partial payment within the Treaty of Fomena, which required the Asante kingdom to pay the British 50,000 ounces of gold.

These items were first accessioned by UCLA's then-Museum and Laboratories of Ethnic Arts and Technology in 1965, as part of the encyclopedic collection assembled by American-born British pharmaceutical tycoon Henry Wellcome. Wellcome died in 1936, and his collection was stored for three decades before 30,000 pieces were donated to UCLA.

The Fowler museum was founded in 1963 by UCLA Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy, and its first home was in the basement of Haines Hall on the UCLA campus. Thus, these items and other portions of Wellcome's collection were among some of the founding collections of the museum. Because this collection had sat in storage for so long, current Fowler Museum curators had more or less forgotten about it until the 2019 funding was secured to reassess and inventory their Colonial era African art collection.

The restitutions were made to the Asante monarch, Asantehene Osei Tutu II, the 16th Asante king, in a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the Sagrenti War. They were delivered in person in Kumasi, Ghana, by Silvia Forni, the Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum; Erica P. Jones, Senior Curator of African Arts and Manager of Curatorial Affairs; and Rachel Raynor, Director of Registration and Collections Management. The return was marked by a commemorative funeral – called a Black Durbar – that mourned the lives and art lost while celebrating the return.

In addition, the returned objects have been scanned, and the Fowler has commissioned Ghanaian artists to produce replicas for use in exhibitions. The Fowler Museum publicly contrasted their "ethical and voluntary return" to that of the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum, who both agreed to a "six year loan of looted objects." Many other similar items remain in the collection of the Wellcome Trust itself and in other institutions.

Number of Objects

7

Object Type

Jewelry – bracelets, rings, personal decoration
Other

Culture

Asante

Private Collector

Henry Wellcome

Museum Name

Fowler Museum (UCLA)

Receiving Country

Ghana

MOLA Contributor(s)

Damien Huffer

Peer Reviewed By

Jason Felch

Citation

“Fowler Ashanti Returns,” Museum of Looted Antiquities, accessed July 13, 2024, https://mola.omeka.net/items/show/2119.