Musée des Civilisations noires [Museum of Black Civilizations]


The Musée des Civilisations noires [Museum of Black Civilizations] opened on December 6, 2018, in Dakar, Senegal. It is a 150,000-square-foot, circular structure, modeled after the traditional houses of Senegal’s Casamance region. The museum celebrates black civilizations from across the globe. Cuban artist Elio Rodríguez’s entangled fabric installations (Utopian Project) that transcend the Caribbean and African dichotomy are on view in the inaugural show. Also on view are works by fellow Cuban artist Leandro Soto (Kachireme) and Haitian artist Philippe Dodard (Memory in Motion). [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Kate Brown (artnet) reports:

For so long the artistic history of an entire continent has largely been told by others or stowed away in faraway museums. As pressure mounts on museums outside Africa to return art and artifacts plundered during the colonial era, an aspirational new pan-African institution in Senegal is hoping to change the narrative.

The Museum of Black Civilizations (MCN), which opened yesterday in the capital city of Dakar, aims to reshape the understanding of African history and that of the continent’s diaspora worldwide. Housed in a colossal new building, the prestige project, built with Chinese money and designed by Chinese-state architects for $30 million, symbolizes a tectonic shift in power relations in the West African country and across much of the continent.

Senegal’s culture minister Abdoul Latif Coulibaly has described the opening of the MCN as the beginning of a new chapter in “the promotion of black civilizations in the world.” Mindful of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge last year to return African art in the nation’s museums, and the Sarr-Savoy report he commissioned, Coulibaly also announced plans to file formal repatriation claims with France, declaring that “if 10,000 pieces are identified in the collections, we are asking for all 10,000.”


Where Is the Art?

Measuring 150,000 square feet and inspired by the traditional circular hut, there is plenty of space for new and old art within the MCN. Director Bocoum said that the institution is hoping to support other less affluent nations by hosting their art and objects.

“We cannot be prisoners of what we do not have,” Bocoum told Le Monde in 2016, when asked about the fact that up to 90 percent of African cultural heritage is in museums abroad. Instead, the museum will focus on working with living artists, many of whom have achieved international recognition. Bocoum is working to establish international partnerships, and the museum is already in talks with the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The director spoke of hoping to work with London’s British Museum and the Smithsonian Institute.

According to a statement, the MCN’s curatorial mandate in general is to be a “political, cultural, artistic and economic response of the ‘Negritude’ against the technological and cultural devaluation of black civilizations.” The program will also consider Africa’s contribution to the development of science and technology, which some have expressed is often undervalued in world history and, rather than dwell on past tragedies, the museum aims to celebrate the achievement of Africans and the members of the African diaspora.

The first temporary show provides a chronological journey from prehistory to the 21st century focused art and artifacts from the African diaspora. “African Civilizations: Continuous Creation of Humanity” looks at the globalization of Blackness, the history of masks, and the traditions of Sufism and Christianity in Africa.

The pan-African mission is exemplified by its contemporary art; Cuban artist Elio Rodriguez’s entangled fabric installations that transcend the Caribbean and African dichotomy are on view in the inaugural show. The South African artist Andries Botha’s mixed media installation History has an aspect of oversight in the process of progressive blindness from 2004 presents a politically charged view on history. Works by the renowned Malian textile-based artist Abdoulaye Konaté are also on view in the first exhibition—the MCN already has a few of his works in its collection. [. . .]

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