Senegal declared open what is perhaps the largest museum of black civilization within the capital, Dakar. Late President Leopold Sedar Senghor was the first to propose the idea of a museum about Black civilizations in 1966 during a world festival of black artists in Dakar.
The museum is an ambitious project that aims to trace, document and display history and contributions from the African Diaspora since time immemorial. A museum statement noted that the entity would feature “broad spectrum exhibitions representing the diversity of (Black) civilizations, cultures, and arts throughout the ages.” The MBC also hopes to foster the preservation of history for those living on the continent and others who have ventured further abroad. Countless African Diasporic histories have been lost over the years due to the lack of an institution on the continent equipped to archive those histories.
“We are giving people back their history, and we want them to be proud of it,” Curatorial Assistant, Fatima Bintou Rassoul, shared. “There is an absence of pride amongst Africans, more increasingly within younger populations, about said history and culture, because people don’t know how rich those narratives are.”
Contemporary ‘history’ would have us believe Africans were barbarians who learned everything from Western colonizers and missionaries. Any thorough investigation of history will reveal that as early as the 14th Century, the Benin Kingdom, a prosperous nation now absorbed into modern day Nigeria, had been trading with the rest of the world, engaging in diplomatic relations, and sending emissaries to Portugal with bronzes long before colonization. Many of those precious artefacts were eventually looted by the British.
The MBC aims to craft a cohesive and complete narrative about the history of the African diaspora by working with institutions and artefact collections from Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S.A, Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, and other African countries. Magette Sene Thiaw, the museum’s researcher-historian shared that the MBC will include collections from as early as the 16th Century.
The MBC will illuminate cross-cultural exchanges among global Black populations throughout history to bridge the presumed gaps between them, and foster a unity that today is fraught. The museum stated that it wants to create “a renewed vision of historical, cultural continuities which have proven to be powerful erasers of political borders inherited from colonization.”
The museum has approximately 14,000 square meters floor area and capacity for 18,000 exhibits that includes two main exhibition halls named Africa Now showcasing contemporary African Arts and the Caravan which dwells on the Transatlantic and Sahara Desert slave trade era which gave birth to new African communities in the Americas.
The museum is expected to house artefacts taken by France during the colonial era and this prompted Senegal’s culture minister in urging for compensation from France for all Senegalese artwork and on the back of a French report urging the return of African art treasures. These priceless artefacts that symbolize African cultural identity are currently scattered across the world, with a good number in British and French Museums
African countries have had to continuously negotiate for the return of their valuable historical cultural artefacts that were forcefully taken or smuggled out during the colonial era but are yet to receive any positive response from these western countries, which are making huge financial gains from these artefacts.