Senegal Opens World’s Largest Museum of Black Civilizations To ‘Decolonize’ Knowledge’. China Helped Pay For It

Written by Ann Brown

It’s been 52 years in the making, but Senegal has opened what has been described as the largest museum of Black civilization ever.

 The Museum of Black Civilizations occupies 14,000 square meters in the capital, Dakar, with a capacity of 18,000 pieces of art. It will be used for the conservation of cultural values of Black people and for the presentation of Africa to the world, How Africa reported. China donated $34.6 million to help build the massive structure.

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The idea of the museum was first proposed by Senegal’s late President Leopold Sedar Senghor during a world festival of Black artists in Dakar in 1966.

During that festival, Black artists from all over the world and African officials came to Dakar, including Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, writer Wole Soyinka, Jazz legend Duke Ellington, the Martiniquan poet Aime Cesaire, Barbadian novelist George Lamming, and American writers Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka.

Inspired by the event, Sedar dreamed of a museum to honor Africa’s cultural influence in the world. Now his dream has come true.

Although Senghor had the vision, funds were not there. Senegal was unable to invest a huge amount into an art and culture project until now.

The museum’s curator, Senegalese Babacar Mbow, said the new museum is “incomparable to anything in the world.”

Its capacity for 18,000 exhibits puts it in the same arena as the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C.

Museum of Black Civilizations
A visitors look at wooden royal statues of the Dahomey kingdom, dated 19th century, today’s Benin,at Quai Branly museum in Paris, France, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. From Senegal to Ethiopia, artists, governments and museums are eagerly awaiting a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron on how former colonizers can return African art to Africa. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

“The high-ceilinged exhibition halls include Africa Now, showcasing contemporary African art and The Caravan and the Caravel, which tells the story of the trade in human beings — across the Atlantic and through the Sahara — that gave rise to new communities of Africans in the Americas,” Voyage Afriq reported.

The exhibits also cover the African diaspora communities in Brazil, the United States, and the Caribbean.

One piece of installed art, “Memory in Motion” by Haitian artist Philippe Dodard, depicts the stages of enslavement from Africa to the slave ship to the Caribbean plantations. Another installation shows women of African descent, including American activist Angela Davis. It is called Women of the Nation.

“All of the phases of the inauguration of the museum is done by Africans,” he says.

The architecture has been praised. The museum’s disc-like shape was inspired by the rounded walls of the medieval city of Great Zimbabwe.

According to Mbow, the museum is an attempt to “finish the decolonization of knowledge as it pertains to Africa.”

Carole Boyce Davies, professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University in the U.S., joined other scholars from across Africa and the diaspora for an academic symposium following the museum’s opening. Senghor, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, said the museum could become the focus for discussions surrounding decolonization.

“In December 2011, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade laid the foundation stone in the capital Dakar but works were suspended during a political change until the subsequent leader, Macky Sall set the project rolling between December 2013 and December 2015,” Voyage Afriq reported.

The museum is organized in sections, allowing visitors to experience everything from the Neolithic to the multiplicity of African cultures, through the Iron Age. It also addresses Africa’s contributions to science and technology. “The director of the museum boasts a modern scenography, with the latest technologies, to dialogue paintings, sculptures, masks and some masterpieces, as a piece of one of the major figures of the plastic arts of Mali, Abdoulaye Konaté, and a monumental baobab of 112 meters high made by a Haitian representative of the diaspora,” Travel Noire reported.

“This museum will not look like any other, because it will not be a museum of sub-Saharan Africa,” said museum director Hamady Bocoum. The pan-African project “will be proof that the African man is well in history.”

In the future, stolen African art from France could be returned and installed at the museum.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France will return 26 artifacts taken from Benin in 1892. Macron has also commissioned a study to look into the issue of returning looted African artifacts.