The Museum of Black Civilizations (MCN) opened its doors in December 2018. The museum helps to shape the rapidly evolving African museum landscape and the continent’s ambition to exhibit, preserve and manage its own heritage. In this lecture, museum director Hamady Bocoum explains the history and mission of the museum.
The MCN sprang from the rich artistic and intellectual scene in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The museum can be considered as the brainchild of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of an independent Senegal and a representative of the Négritude movement that opposed French cultural colonialism. Building on this legacy, the MCN continues to work on the revaluation of ‘black’ culture, identity and historiography and to consider it within the context of a globalised world. By avoiding concepts such as ethnography, anthropology, or subaltern – derived from Western and (post)colonial ideas – in the design of the museum, an essential step was taken in the reconstruction of the collective memory of the African community and its diaspora. The museum prefers to work via a dynamic programme that combines historical objects and the work of contemporary artists, rather than through the management and exhibition of a permanent collection.
Nevertheless, the museum is an important voice in the debate on the restitution or return of illegally acquired objects in museum and private collections outside Africa. It calls for a thorough investigation into the origin of these objects and believes each country has the right to manage its own cultural heritage. It is a position that also resonates in Belgium, which is cautiously beginning to formulate ideas about the restitution of objects acquired during the colonial period in the Congo. A nascent debate to which this lecture aims to make a substantial contribution.
This lecture is part of the public programme around ‘Highlights for a Future: The Collection (I)’. Through this exhibition, S.M.A.K. aims to present different avenues of thought concerning the museum’s future. Given that contemporary museums can no longer function according to a universal concept or simply think along chronological lines, a number of speakers have been invited to discuss alternative museum models.
- Thursday 5 September at 7.30 pm.
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- In French.
- The museum will be open until 10 pm this evening.