Arts + Culture

Senegal Opens Museum of Black Civilizations—One of the Largest of Its Kind In the World

The museum, dedicated to "decolonizing African knowledge," has been 52 years in the making.

What began as an idea proposed by Senegal's first president Léopold Sédar Senghor over 50 years ago, has now become a reality as Senegal has officially opened the Museum of Black Civilizations, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Senegal's current president Macky Sall inaugurated the museum earlier today in Dakar. The design of the building, which contains 14,000 square meters of floor space and a capacity for 18,000 exhibits, was inspired by circular traditional homes native to Southern Senegal, BBC Africa reports. Its size is comparable to the National Museum of African American History in Washington, according to Al Jazeera.


The museum has been several years in the making, with leaders after Senghor putting investment into the arts on the back burner in the face of economic and political challenges. In 2011, President Abdoulaye Wade laid the foundation for the museum, but construction was halted due to a political transition, adds CGTN Africa News. The project was put into motion by Sall beginning in 2013, and has finally come to fruition through a $34 million investment from China—another indication of China's ubiquitous economic presence across Africa.

READ: Senegal Urges France to Return Looted Art

The museum, is dedicated to "decolonizing African knowledge" and hosts artifacts and exhibitions representative of both continental Africa, and its diaspora. The museum's first exhibitions showcase works from artists from Mali and Burkina Faso as well as from Cuba and Haiti. The diaspora in Brazil and the United States are also represented in the museum's collection.

As Al Jazeera reports, some of the works currently showing at the museum include "Memory in Motion" by Haitian artist Philippe Dodard, which depicts "the stages of enslavement from Africa to the slave ship to the Caribbean plantation with floating eyes," to quote the publication directly. As well as "Women of the Nation" which pays homage to impactful women of African decent.

In November, Senegal urged France to return 100 pieces of looted art, following the release of a report commissioned by France's President Emmanuel Macron, entitled The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage: Toward a New Relational Ethics. Macron had recently ordered 26 Benin artifacts to be returned to their country of origin.

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Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

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