Insiders Insight: A tale of two museums
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A tale of two museums
Two museums (re)opened last week, one in Dakar, Senegal, and one in the Belgian city of Tervuren.
Belgium’s Africa Museum reopened after five years of renovations, which aimed to transform its exhibition from one of blatant pro-colonial propaganda to a collection that critically explores especially Belgium’s colonial project in the DR Congo, which has gone down in history as one of the most brutal regimes of the colonial era.
Many of the artifacts from before the renovation remain, including stuffed animals, stolen Congolese art and the statue of an European missionary with an African boy clutching his robes and a plaque reading “Belgium brings civilisation to the Congo”.
But the new exhibition has added contemporary art by African sculptures and has rearranged the exhibits to contextualise the artefacts in the context of current issues facing the DRC and the African diaspora in Belgium. The museum officially now wants to educate Belgians about their colonial past, which many have little knowledge of.
But critics say that these steps are insufficient, especially as long as African art that has been stolen by Europeans remains in the museum.
This brings us to the second institution, the new Museum of Black Civilisations in Dakar, Senegal. A project first conceived by poet, academic and Senegal’s first President Lépold Sédar Senghor, but opened 17 years after his death, displays artifacts ranging from prehistoric relics to modern African art and considers both cultural developments across Africa, as well as African diasporas.
Apart from Senghor, the Senegalese intellectual Cheikh Anta Diop has to be counted among the influences of this new institution. Both Diop and Senghor, despite being bitter political rivals, contributed to a post-colonial and fundamentally new conception of African identity and pan-African culture. The new museum reflects these thoughts better than any European institution could.
The project is especially important in the context of the current debate around the repatriation of African art, as it solves one of the practical arguments of opponents of the idea, namely: where should the artifacts be put? The Senegalese government has already demanded the repatriation of all art illegally removed from Senegal itself and the Museum has offered to house artifacts from other countries, to make them accessible to African audiences.
- Belgium’s Africa Museum reopens to confront its colonial demons (Reuters)
- Sprawling Museum of Black Civilizations Opens in Senegal (Smithsonian Magazine)
- Video: Visite guidée du Musée des civilisations noires de Dakar (Le Monde)
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
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