Africa

Senegal unveils Museum of Black Civilisations

Pieces of art are exhibited in the new museum of black civilisations, in Dakar, on December 6, 2018, during the opening ceremony and inauguration. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The idea of opening such a museum in Senegal dates back more than 50 years

President Macky Sall has inaugurated Senegal's new Museum of Black Civilisations in the capital, Dakar.

It follows calls from Senegal and other African nations for France to return art it looted during the colonial era.

Among the first temporary exhibitions to be shown is work from artists from Mali and Burkina Faso as well as from Cuba and Haiti.

After decades of inaction, construction was finally made possible after a $34m (£27m) Chinese investment.

Image caption President Macky Sall cut the ceremonial ribbon at today's inauguration

The idea of establishing the museum dates back more than 50 years, to Senegal's late poet-president, Léopold Sédar Senghor.

Along with Martinican writer Aimé Césaire, Senghor was a creative force behind the philosophy of Négritude, which opposed the imposition of French culture on colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption This striated kifwebe mask hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo

The museum will not be a commemorative monument, its director says, but rather a creative laboratory to help shape a continent's sense of identity.

It is expected to open to the public in the coming weeks.

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption "Kachireme" by Cuban artist Leandro Soto finds parallels between Nigerian ancestral spirits and Native American beliefs

"This museum is a step forward for us," Amadou Moustapha Dieng, a Senegalese arts journalist, told the BBC.

"I know there are important relics which I'm not able to see unless I go abroad, but now [with] this space, we can get back the relics and Africans can come here now and see this was their history."

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption This 2004 piece, which reflects on history as "progressive blindness", is among the more recently created works

The Museum of Black Civilisations has changed the landscape of downtown Dakar.

Built in a circular shape, the architecture was inspired by traditional homes typical to southern Senegal.

Image copyright Elimane Fall
Image caption The building's curves recall the architectural styles found in southern Senegal
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The site has nearly 40,000 sq ft (3,700 sq m) of exhibition space
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Museum of Black Civilisations is expected to open to the public in the coming weeks

In November an experts' report, commissioned by France's President Emmanuel Macron, recommended that African treasures taken without permission be returned to their countries of origin.

Senegal's Culture Minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly told the BBC he welcomed the French report as "every piece from Senegal is in France".

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption The museum has a pan-African focus with pieces from across Africa and the Caribbean
Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption This artefact is from Cameroon's Bamoun community

The African state with the highest number of art pieces in France is Chad, another former colony.

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption This Songye mask originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo

The museum's bosses hope they will "be able to turn Senegal into an intellectual and cultural capital of the black world".

For years, Dakar has been aiming to position itself as a cultural capital in the region. With President Macky Sall running for re-election in 2019, the government is hoping that the opening of the museum will help it achieve the goal.

Image copyright Museum of Black Civilisations
Image caption Senegal plans to house returned artefacts in the Museum of Black Civilisations

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