The recent release of the groundbreaking study by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy calling for the restitution of Africa’s looted assets has sparked debates from the art historians of Paris and London to the museums and cultural centers of Africa’s major cities.
With over 90,000 African artifacts in French museums and thousands more spread throughout different museums in Europe, the debate rages on about whether Africa should be “loaned” back her looted assets and whether we have the ability or interest to safeguard our treasures. This is why the recent opening of the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar could not have been more timely.
The massive 14,000 square meters complex has four floors that draw its architectural inspiration from the inner atriums of the homes in the Casamance region in the south of Senegal and from the Great Zimbabwe kingdom. The first thing the viewer is confronted with is the huge baobab sculpture by Haitian sculptor Edouard Duval-Carrié in the middle of the museum. The beloved tree of life is of great cultural, spiritual and historical significance in Senegal with some of the trees being between 1,000 – 2,500 years old and having more than 300 uses.
The museum hopes to represent all black civilizations, but the fact that it is based in Dakar is not mere coincidence. Art lives and breathes in Dakar. With its founding father and the brain-child behind this grand museum – Léopold Sédar Senghor – having been a poet, cultural theorist and leading pan-Africanist thinker, it makes sense that Dakar would be the home of this museum. The literary movement of negritude—a framework of critique and literary theory was developed mainly by Francophone intellectuals, writers, and politicians of the African diaspora during the 1930s. Key among its founders were Senghor, Martinican poet Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas of French Guyana. As such, Dakar is very well-suited to be the continental home of this movement.