The Museum of Black Civilizations in Senegal opened this month with Philadelphia’s Scribe Video Center selected as the representative for the United States.
A total of 44 Scribe produced short films showcase the Delaware Valley’s African-American community and experiences, alongside Black arts and cultures throughout Africa and the African diaspora around the globe. The idea was conceived when Senegal’s first president, internationally acclaimed poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, hosted the World Black Festival of Arts in 1966.
“People from all over the world when they learn about an African Diaspora community in the United States they will learn from the installation,” said Louis Massiah, the founder and director of Scribe.
The museum, which is on par with the National Museum of African American History in Washington, DC., has stirred an international conversation about the ownership and legacy of African art. Filling the 148,000-square-foot circular structure, one of the largest of its kind on the continent, is complicated by the fact that countless artifacts have been dispersed around the world.
Last month, a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron recommended that French museums give back works taken without consent if African countries request them. Macron has stressed the “undeniable crimes of European colonization,” adding that “I cannot accept that a large part of African heritage is in France.”
The West African nation’s culture minister has stated that it’s time for the thousands of pieces of cherished heritage taken from the continent over the centuries to come home. “It’s entirely logical that Africans should get back their artworks,” Abdou Latif Coulibaly told The Associated Press. “These works were taken in conditions that were perhaps legitimate at the time but illegitimate today.”
France, whose president in recent weeks has pledged to return 26 pieces to Benin, is just one of many countries loaning works for the new museum’s opening exhibition.
“This museum is celebrating the resilience of Black people,” professor Linda Carty, who teaches African American studies at Syracuse University, told the AP at its opening. “This is a forced recognition of how much Black people have brought to the world. We were first. That’s been taken away from us, and we now have reclaimed it.”
The Scribe Video Center films that will be on display include films produced through “Precious Places Community History Project,” “Muslim Voices of Philadelphia” and “Great Migration: A City Transformed (1916-1930).”
“It’s really a sight to behold and something that all of us in Philadelphia can be proud of,” added Messiah. “It is really an honor that this museum, which is a state of the art and beautiful structure, understands what we have been doing and puts it into a global context the works that have been made by community groups in Philadelphia through Scribe.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.