Martor No. 23 / Year 2018

Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilisations: Towards a New Imaginary of a Post-ethnographic Museum

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Author: Charline Kopf

About the author:
Charline Kopf
PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology, University of Oslo
charline.kopf at hotmail dot de

Pages: 37-55

Keywords: post-ethnography, decolonising museums, intangible heritage, curatorial practices, identity politics.

How are postcolonial identities curated in non-Western art institutions? How do the latter engage with the question of the restitution of colonial looted artefacts during this turning point where Western museums seem increasingly willing to address claims of repatriation? Focusing on the unfolding debates on restitution and heritage around the new Museum of Black Civilisations (MCN) in Senegal, the article investigates how curatorial approaches aimed at challenging Eurocentrism address questions of identity, authenticity and discourses on the Other. It finds that, contrary to decolonial museum exhibitions in the West, the MCN avoids engaging in claims of restitution as this would reproduce Europe’s key role in defining “authentic” and “traditional” African art. At the same time, this paper shows that the underlying logic aimed to subvert exoticising representations and reconfigure Self-Other relations can uphold an internal dichotomy of cultures that risks lapsing into the same essentialism that is criticised. This is furthermore complicated by the tension between an imaginary of pan-African Black Civilisations and the criticism directed towards the management of artefacts in postcolonial states where nation-building is an ongoing process. In teasing out the challenges of formulating a reconfigured postcolonial future without drawing on culturalist discourses and reinforcing a dichotomy between modernity and tradition, this article adds a radically different perspective to the literature on heritage and museums in relation to colonialism and is also of relevance to those looking at curatorial practices, identity politics and international relations.

How to cite this article: Kopf, Charline. 2018. “Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilisations: Towards a New Imaginary of a Post-ethnographic Museum.” Martor 23: 37-55. [DOI: 10.57225/martor.2018.23.03]