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Senegal unveils Museum of Black Civilizations

The Musée des Civilisations noires (Museum of Black Civilizations) has been opened in Dakar, Senegal by President Macky Sall amid a global conversation about the ownership of colonial era artefacts in European museums.

Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the West African nation’s culture minister said, ‘It’s entirely logical that Africans should get back their artworks, these works were taken in conditions that were perhaps legitimate at the time but illegitimate today.’

Last month a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron recommend the full restitution by French museums of works in their collections which were taken ‘without consent’ from former African colonies.

The 148,000-square-foot Musée des Civilisations noires is the latest sign that museums in Africa are ready to receive these collections.

The idea of establishing the museum in Dakar dates back more than 50 years, to Senegal’s late president, Léopold Sédar Senghor who tabled the idea of decolonising culture through a post-colonial cultural vision.

The museum has the capacity to display eighteen thousand artefacts, but it doesn’t yet have a permanent collection. However with the promise from France to return artefacts this could soon change.

Abdou Latif Coulibaly said ‘I would say that there are about 5,000 artefacts acquired by France under duress that could come back here. Now it’s all inventory work that needs to be done here as well as in France.’

But even if a large-scale restitution program is implemented by France, the museum wants to look forwards, not backwards.

‘We do not want to be just a museum of the past, the project has always been forward looking,’ says museum director Hamady Bocoum. ‘This will be reflected in our acquisition policies: we have decided to acquire first and foremost the works of living African artists.’

Image Credit: AFP / Getty Images

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