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Journal ArticleDOI

Inside Dakar's Musée Dynamique : reflections on culture and the state in postcolonial Senegal

16 Jan 2019-Vol. 9, Iss: 1, pp 81-97

AbstractIn November 2016, a conference was held in Dakar to mark the 50th anniversary of the First World Festival of Negro Arts, which had been held in the city from 1 to 24 April 1966. The conference closed with the public reading of a declaration that the organizers would later publish in the Senegalese daily newspaper, Le Soleil. One of its main demands was the restitution of the former Musee Dynamique to the Ministry for Culture. This was unsurprising, as the destiny of the museum had been a bone of contention between the government and key figures in the Senegalese cultural scene ever since the building was abruptly closed down in December 1988 and handed over to the judiciary as the new home for Senegal’s Supreme Court. The authors of this essay embarked on a research trip to Dakar in November 2016 to attend the 50th anniversary conference to photograph the Musee Dynamique as it is today: the intention was, as far as possible, to create a visual project centred on a rephotographing of the museum, contrasting the utopian vision of the festival organizers with its current status. The framework for our project changed somewhat, however, following President Macky Sall’s announcement that the building would soon be returned to the arts community. The aim of this visual essay is now thus primarily to examine more closely the nature, purpose and evolution of the museum building. What exactly is the nature of the building about to be returned to the arts community?

Topics: The arts (51%)

Summary (1 min read)

A new museum in town

  • The construction of a vast museum space was seen as crucial to the success of the 1966 festival for a number of reasons: it would form a physical centrepiece for the event, and it would live on long after the festival to function as an illustration of the newly independent state's commitment to culture.
  • For it was realised that, without a new museum, the artistic ambitions of Negro Art could not be fulfilled.
  • The middle ground level was designated as an administrative space with a curator's office and a photography laboratory.

The 'dynamic museum' as a concept

  • The museum's name had not been decided upon at the beginning of the process.
  • The aim, clearly, was to provide a multi-use space that could accommodate all kinds of exhibitions.
  • Gabus was not only the director of this institution, but had also been the prime mover behind the construction of a new section of the museum (built in 1954-55) envisaged as a 'musée dynamique' that would stand alongside the 'static museum' housing the permanent collection.
  • This temporary exhibition building-known today as the Black Box-is recognizable for its distinctive closed structure.
  • 339-40) 10 The Musée Dynamique would this be situated within a broader category of museums seeking to break with the practice of those institutions dating from the colonial period whose collections presented a timeless Africa to the spectator, also known as (Huchard 2010.

The tortuous evolution of a building

  • Beyond its immediate use in the 1966 festival, the Musée Dynamique was conceived as the first stage in the creation of a Cité des arts, a vast project that was designed to occupy the entire promontory overlooking Soumbedioune Bay .
  • There were plans for a fine arts building, a centre for dramatic arts and music, an administrative building and artists' residences.
  • Over the summer, renovation work took place: a court room was installed while the mezzanine and the basement area-which previously held the museum's reserve 13.

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Inside Dakar’s Musée Dynamique:
Reflections on culture and the state in postcolonial Senegal
By
David Murphy & Cédric Vincent

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Inside Dakar’s Musée Dynamique:
Reflections on culture and the state in postcolonial Senegal
In November 2016, a conference was held in Dakar to mark the 50
th
anniversary of
the First World Festival of Negro Arts which had been held in the city from 1-24
April 1966. The conference closed with the public reading of a declaration that the
organizers would later publish in the Senegalese daily newspaper, Le Soleil
(‘Déclaration finale’ 2016). One of its main demands was the restitution of the former
Musée Dynamique to the Ministry for Culture. This was unsurprising, as the destiny
of the museum had been a bone of contention between the government and key
figures in the Senegalese cultural scene ever since the building was abruptly closed in
December 1988 and handed over to the judiciary as the new home for Senegal’s
Supreme Court.
Senegalese President Léopold Senghor had envisaged the 1966 festival as a
celebration of Negritude, his concept of an essentialised blackness centred on
emotion, rhythm and spontaneity. The Musée Dynamique, specially constructed for
the event, hosted the festival centrepiece, an exhibition, entitled Negro Art, which
featured over 600 objects of ‘traditional’ African art, borrowed from major museum
collections in Europe and North America, from private collectors, and also from
traditional kingdoms across the African continent. The objects had been chosen on the
basis of aesthetic criteria and were designed to illustrate the richness of Africa’s
cultural heritage. For two decades, the museum lived on as the most tangible legacy
of the 1966 festival: after the museum’s closure in 1988, however, it became the most
visible symbol of the decline of President Senghor’s cultural programme and the

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apparent demise of his vision of culture as the motor of development at the heart of
the African renaissance.
1
The November 2016 declaration in Le Soleil was not the first time that the re-
opening of the museum had been the subject of public debate (see Sylla 2007). This
time, however, those behind the declaration believed that they might finally be
pushing at an open door, for the text directly addressed President Macky Sall, who
had announced during his speech at the opening of the conference that the museum
would soon be returned to the arts community. The President’s announcement had
been something of a surprise, though, as cultural debate in the preceding months had
been dominated by a brand new museum, the Musée des Civilisations Noires
(Museum of Black Civilizations), an imposing structure in downtown Dakar that then
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade had negotiated as a gift from the Chinese
government. The new museum had originally been due to open at the end of 2016 but
the grand opening had been postponed: during its planning and development, it had
gained notoriety as a white elephant, a grandiose building without a collection to
display. It was a rich irony to see the project to create a Museum of Black
Civilizations finally come to its troubled fruition at the very moment that its long-lost
predecessor, the Musée Dynamique, was returning to the forefront of the cultural
scene. In another layer of irony, the Museum of Black Civilizations was a project
originally conceived in the 1970s by Senghor and Jean Gabus, key figure in the
design of the Musée Dynamique.
The present authors embarked on a research trip to Dakar in November 2016
to attend the 50
th
anniversary conference and to photograph the Musée Dynamique as
it is today: the intention was, as far as possible, to create a visual project centred on a
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1
For an overview of the 1966 festival, see Murphy (2016). On the ‘Negro Art’ exhibition, see Vincent
(2016).

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rephotographing of the museum, contrasting the utopian vision of the festival
organizers with its current status. In some instances this would, as far as practicable,
involve a process of ‘repeat photography’, returning to the precise vantage point from
which photographs of the museum had been taken in 1966, a process that, as Trudi
Smith has argued (in a very different context), creates a fruitful site for the
construction of ‘knowledge about place, environment and people’s relationship with
it’ (Smith, 2007, 180). Photographs of the museum taken around the time of the
festival frame the building as a monumental temple of culture (is this Athens or
Dakar?), its elevated and isolated position on the promontory lending it a sense of
imposing grandeur (figure 1). Researchers visiting Dakar and seeking to photograph
the building after its transformation into the Supreme Court, however, were usually
greeted, by gun-toting security guards indicating that, with the heightened terrorist
threat in the region, no photographs were allowed: the building’s imposing, remote
grandeur had been all too easily given a new and somewhat authoritarian dimension
(figure 2).
2
As Smith argues, ‘repeat photography brings a distinct awareness to acts
of vision and provides an active, interpretive understanding of space and place’ (180);
‘it is a multi-layered and complex way to make the past present and to present the
past, which, through this intricate relationship, allows us to investigate historical and
contemporary realities’ (185). In the case of the Musée Dynamique, it is not simply
that the building’s function has changed; it is also the case that the very acts of both
seeing and photographing it have changed in material ways over the past 50 years
(ways that made an exact repeat photography approach very difficult; see figures 3
and 4).
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2
The authors would like to express their gratitude to Charles Becker and Abdoul Aziz Guissé for their
kind assistance on the ground in Dakar.

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It is within this framework that the photographs accompanying this essay seek
to document two moments in the history of the building, in 1966 and 2016, by
juxtaposing images that belong to very different registers: official press photographs
taken at the time of the 1966 festival; amateur snaps taken at the same time by Roland
Kaehr, one of the assistants who helped to install the Negro Art exhibition (figure 5);
and photographs taken on the fly by the present authors during a brief tour of the
building 50 years later.
The framework for our project also changed somewhat, following President
Sall’s announcement cited above: instead of exploring a museum that had now
become a courthouse, were we exploring a building about to rediscover its original
function? Our visual essay was thus obliged to examine more closely the nature,
purpose and evolution of this museum building. What exactly is the nature of the
building about to be returned to the arts community? To answer this question involves
an examination of the ‘biography’ of the building, going beyond a standard
architectural approach that considers a building as a fixed object:
3
for, once a building
has been erected, it is used, consumed, adapted.
4
The use of the building must thus be
considered a dynamic act that implies the creation and negotiation of meanings and
values.
A new museum in town
‘Here we are, in front of this Musée Dynamique which constitutes the real heart of the
festival and which will, in future, act as the most significant witness to this event’. It
was with these words that President Senghor began his speech opening the Negro Art
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3
The notion of ‘biography’ is taken from the groundbreaking book, The Social Life of Things (1986),
edited by the anthropologist, Arjun Appadurai.
4
This project is situated within the framework outlined by scholars such as historian Daniel Maudlin
and architectural anthropologist Marcel Vellinga (2014).

Citations
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References
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BookDOI
Abstract: Foreword Nancy Farriss Preface Part I. Toward an anthropology of things: 1. Introduction: commodities and the politics of value Arjun Appadurai 2. The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process Igor Kopytoff Part II. Exchange, Consumption, and Display: 3. Two kinds of value in the Eastern Solomon Islands William H. Davenport 4. Newcomers to the world of goods: consumption among the Muria Gonds Alfred Gell Part III. Prestige, Commemoration, and Value: 5. Varna and the emergence of wealth in prehistoric Europe Colin Renfrew 6. Sacred commodities: the circulation of medieval relics Patrick Geary Part IV. Production Regimes and the Sociology of Demand: 7. Weavers and dealers: the authenticity of an oriental carpet Brian Spooner 8. Qat: changes in the production and consumption of a quasilegal commodity in northeast Africa Lee V. Cassanelli Part V. Historical Transformations and Commodity Codes: 9. The structure of a cultural crisis: thinking about cloth in France before and after the Revolution William M. Reddy 10. The origins of swadeshi (home industry): cloth and Indian society, 1700-1930 C. A. Bayly Index.

3,909 citations


Posted Content
Abstract: The meaning that people attribute to things necessarily derives from human transactions and motivations, particularly from how those things are used and circulated. The contributors to this volume examine how things are sold and traded in a variety of social and cultural settings, both present and past. Focusing on culturally defined aspects of exchange and socially regulated processes of circulation, the essays illuminate the ways in which people find value in things and things give value to social relations. By looking at things as if they lead social lives, the authors provide a new way to understand how value is externalized and sought after. They discuss a wide range of goods - from oriental carpets to human relics - to reveal both that the underlying logic of everyday economic life is not so far removed from that which explains the circulation of exotica, and that the distinction between contemporary economics and simpler, more distant ones is less obvious than has been thought. As the editor argues in his introduction, beneath the seeming infinitude of human wants, and the apparent multiplicity of material forms, there in fact lie complex, but specific, social and political mechanisms that regulate taste, trade, and desire. Containing contributions from American and British social anthropologists and historians, the volume bridges the disciplines of social history, cultural anthropology, and economics, and marks a major step in our understanding of the cultural basis of economic life and the sociology of culture. It will appeal to anthropologists, social historians, economists, archaeologists, and historians of art.

3,034 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
01 Jun 1988

1,958 citations


Book
23 Nov 2004
Abstract: In Senghor’s Shadow is a unique study of modern art in postindependence Senegal. Elizabeth Harney examines the art that flourished during the administration of Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal’s first president, and in the decades since he stepped down in 1980. As a major philosopher and poet of Negritude, Senghor envisioned an active and revolutionary role for modern artists, and he created a well-funded system for nurturing their work. In questioning the canon of art produced under his aegis—known as the Ecole de Dakar—Harney reconsiders Senghor’s Negritude philosophy, his desire to express Senegal’s postcolonial national identity through art, and the system of art schools and exhibits he developed. She expands scholarship on global modernisms by highlighting the distinctive cultural history that shaped Senegalese modernism and the complex and often contradictory choices made by its early artists. Heavily illustrated with nearly one hundred images, including some in color, In Senghor’s Shadow surveys the work of a range of Senegalese artists, including painters, muralists, sculptors, and performance-based groups—from those who worked at the height of Senghor’s patronage system to those who graduated from art school in the early 1990s. Harney reveals how, in the 1970s, avant-gardists contested Negritude beliefs by breaking out of established artistic forms. During the 1980s and 1990s, artists such as Moustapha Dime, Germaine Anta Gaye, and Kan-Si engaged with avant-garde methods and local artistic forms to challenge both Senghor’s legacy and the broader art world’s understandings of cultural syncretism. Ultimately, Harney’s work illuminates the production and reception of modern Senegalese art within the global arena.

43 citations


"Inside Dakar's Musée Dynamique : r..." refers background in this paper

  • ...For more on the cultural policies of newly independent Senegal, see Snipe (1998) and Harney (2004)....

    [...]


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This paper explores the use of repeat photography as a powerful method to produce knowledge about place. I use examples from research in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada, to describe the process of making a repeat photograph, from locating images in archives, to the embodied act of locating a historic vantage point, to the production of a new photograph. This act brings art and anthropology into a shared space to recreate photographs, an act that goes beyond looking at historical images in archives to move our thinking onward about how we relate to images.

32 citations


"Inside Dakar's Musée Dynamique : r..." refers background in this paper

  • ...…the precise vantage-point from which photographs of the museum had been taken in 1966 – a process that, as Trudi Smith has argued (in a very different context), creates a fruitful site for the construction of ‘knowledge about place, environment and people’s relationship with it’ (Smith 2007, 180)....

    [...]