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  • A 148,000 square-foot space of African pride is filled with intricately carved masks, pottery, glasswork, surrounded by colorful paintings from the region.

    A 148,000 square-foot space of African pride is filled with intricately carved masks, pottery, glasswork, surrounded by colorful paintings from the region. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 December 2018

Nearly 50 years in the making, the four-story museum is displaying centuries of African culture and art stolen during the colonial era.

The Museum of Black Civilization is drawing crowds to Dakar, Senegal as hundreds of artifacts return home for a long awaited exhibition.

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Nearly 50 years in the making, the four-story museum is displaying centuries of African culture and art stolen during the colonial era.

“It’s so overwhelming, I don’t really understand it. Some of it’s familiar, some of it’s not, but it definitely grabs you by the gut,” museum visitor, Soucoumb Diallo, told Al Jazeera.

A 148,000 square-foot space of African pride filled with intricately carved masks, pottery, glasswork, carvings surrounded by colorful paintings from regional and Caribbean artists recall the continent’s place as the “cradle of humanity.”

“Keeping our cultures is what has saved African people from attempts made at making of them soulless people without a history. And if culture does link people together, it also stimulates progress,” said President Macky Sall who attended the Museum’s opening ceremony earlier this month.

Although Senegal’s first post-independence president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, first conceived of a museum honoring black civilization almost half a century ago, its long-delayed completion thanks to an investment of US$34m (£27m) from China comes at a critical moment for African art.

African governments are stepping up pressure on Western museums to return stolen artefacts following a French government report that urged mass restitutions of objects in France’s national museums that were seized during the colonial era.

Hundreds of thousands of artefacts - believed to represent some 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage - now populate exhibitions in European museums and private collections.

Besides Senegal, Nigeria and Benin are also opening new museums meant to serve in part as rejoinders to arguments by European museum directors that Africa lacks the facilities to care for the works.

“The Museum of Black Civilizations is part of a generation of museums that Africa is in the process of building ... so that the continent and its diaspora ... don’t cease defining their history,” said Ernesto Ramirez, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, at the ceremony in Dakar.

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