A Museum of black civilizations in Dakar

A Museum of black civilizations in Dakar

Senegal inaugurated last December a museum dedicated to black civilizations. The Museum for Black Civilizations (MBC) is a pan-African project finally made effective, half a century after the idea was raised by Leopold Sédar Senghor (1960-1980), Senegal’s first President. The creation of the museum also aims a restitution to the African continent its cultural patrimony.

After a seven-year long construction, begun under President Abdoulaye Wade’s term (2000-2012), the grand opening has finally occurred with his successor Macky Sall.

The architecture is monumental: a 14.000 m2 area which can contain up to 18000 pieces of work. The design of the museum is inspired by the round huts of Casamance, a Southern region of Senegal. Located at the heart of Dakar city, the MBC nobly faces the Grand Theater.

“A pan-African project”

Its construction and development have been financed by China for more than 30 million euros. “It is a pan-African project. There will be a facet of every part of Africa”, said Bocoum (MBC Director), ensuring that the museum will host works from other less well-endowed countries of the continent..

The inauguration took place while a report submitted in November to President Emmanuel Macron, written by two academics, the French Bénédicte Savoy and the Senegalese Felwine Sarr, urged to ease the return of former colonies’ works.

The conclusion of this report was hailed by Senegalese Minister for Culture, Abdou Latif Coulibaly. If French officials decide to “permanently return [works], we will manage to host them properly”, he said.

The MBC “claims the status of a modern museum” where “you can control the temperature and humidity in each room,” guaranteed Mr Bocoum. “Benin is also on its way”, with the expected 2020 opening of four modern museums in historic cities, declared Ousmane Aledji, mission head to his country’s Presidency, to which Mr. Macron announced, immediately upon submission, of the report the return of 26 works claimed by Cotonou.

A forward-looking museum

This type of projects « also enables to rebut existing bias on Africa », estimated Mr Aledji, referring to the doubts raised by some experts on the hosting conditions of these cultural works. « If these works belong to Africans, is it Western people’s role to make sure that Africans can preserve them? » vehemently asked the rector of the University Cheikh-Anta Diop of Dakar.

The idea of a museum dedicated to black civilization had already been promoted during the first world Festival of African arts in 1966 in Dakar by Léopold Sédar Senghor, the country’s first President. Half a century later, the MBC becomes a reality. « Everyone will be there, to prove our opening and ability to tell the others: "We do exist, but we exist with you and on your side », claimed the Minister of Culture.

The MBC aims at emphasizing on "Africa’s contribution to the cultural and scientific heritage", stressed Mr Bocoum. But his goal is, above all “to project” forward. "We will not remain into contemplation", he promised.

Mr Bocoum, former director of national heritage and current director of the MBC, is yet facing a major challenge: at its early time, the museum will not have a permanent collection. « Partnerships are our policy. We have agreements with several museums around the world, including Quai Branly in Paris.", he explains.

Finally, even if a large-scale restitution programme was implemented by France, the guideline of the museum should remain faithful to its thinking. "We do not want to be just a museum of the past, the project has always been thought to be future-looking », specifies Hamady Bocoum. This will be reflected in our acquiring policy: we have decided to collect first and foremost works of living African artists to compose our collection in the long run» This last heading has been included in the first temporary exhibition of the museum. Its name: "Now".

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