Tag Archives: Africa Museum

Belgium: Commandos versus Africa Museum

Brussels 29.09.2020 The lawyers of seven Belgium associations representing former para commandos and officers who have served in Africa have given notice to the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA, or AfricaMuseum) in Tervuren. They ask that “any damage to the honour and reputation of the Belgian para commandos” be obliterated in a text next to a statue at the large rotunda of the museum, Antwerp newspaper reports

The associations demand that any link between the operation of the para commandos and the “crushing” of the rebels be removed. They want the museum to remove any reference “that damages the reputation of the Belgian para commandos”, by 12 October 2020 at the latest.

In the absence of action within the set term, the associations will start legal proceedings, the lawyers say in the notice of default.

It concerns the statue “La Belgique opportant la sécurité au Congo” (Belgium brings security to Congo) by Arsène Matton. In addition, Belgium is portrayed as protecting a sleeping man and child in the folds of its flag. A semi-transparent veil has been applied over that image, with a postcolonial image intended to evoke a “visual and semantic shock that should shed new light on a heavy heritage”.

The picture shows an armed soldier with the text “A Belgian para commando in Stanleyville in 1964, crushing the Simba rebels. The formal independence of Congo in 1960 has by no means sounded the death knell for foreign intervention ”. The seven associations consider that the first sentence of the text is “particularly misleading, hurtful and an attack on the honor” of the then Belgian para commandos. They already sent an open letter in July to the general director of the museum, Guido Gryseels, with Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès in copy.

According to the associations, this sentence establishes a “direct and unmistakable link” between the operation of the Belgian para commandos in Stanleyville, the former name of the current Kisangani, and the crushing of the Simba rebels. “This link is a clear historical untruth”, it sounds. “The intervention of the Belgian para commandos in Stanleyville from November 24 to 28, 1964 was after all a humanitarian operation that made it possible to free 2,375 hostages and was in no way intended to” crush the Simba rebels “. The humanitarian operation of the para commandos had no military purpose; and if Simba rebels were killed by para commandos during the humanitarian operation, it was only in situations of absolute necessity. ”
The associations demand that any link between the operation of the para commandos and the “crushing” of the rebels be removed. They want the museum to remove any reference “that damages the reputation of the Belgian para commandos”, by 12 October 2020 at the latest.

In the absence of action within the set term, the associations will start legal proceedings, the lawyers say in the notice of default.

Belgium colonial taboo

By the end of last year Africa Museum in outskirts of Brussels, Belgium, has terminated cooperation with a guide accused of “racist comments” during a tour with students, because of mentioning some positive sides of the colonial past.
He is no longer a guide at our museum,” the director of the Museum Guido Gryseels said while dealing with the allegations. “We have distanced ourselves from his statements.”

The guide, who has not been named, but referred in social media as Dirk, has made some unsuccessful attempts to present an objective from his point of view concept of Belgium’s colonialism of Africa, mentioning some positive elements of introduction of advantages of Western civilisation to Congo, which are an absolute taboo in Belgium modern cultural discourse.

During a recent tour of the Museum given to a group of history students from the University of Antwerp, one of their number, Hanane Llouh, alleged on Twitter and to Agence France Press (AFP),

The student Ms.Llouh wrote on her Twitter page that she was «furious and offended» by the guide interpretations of the past.

Gryseels said the guide, with whom he discussed the complaint, agreed to a “lack of judgement” in some of his comments portraying colonial history positively, but denied making outright racist statements.

We have stopped our collaboration with him,Gryseels said, adding: “He’s a freelancer so we can’t really fire him.”

However not everyone approved the draconian measures of the Museum administration against the ‘heretic‘ guide. The voices were raised against the disproportionate reaction, indicating that the guide Dirk did not twist any facts or figures. However his vision of Congo history was influenced by very personal souvenirs kept in his family. Apparently the stories of his grandmother residing there were preciosus to him, and he was pround of her, treating her African servant as a member of the family, eating all together at the table once a week in a patriarchal manner. Dirk called for more ‘nuanced‘ vision of colonial past, avoiding the trap generalisations, reproducing clichées. The guide also complained that while soliciting he was confronted with discirmination based on his skin color, but finally he was admitted for the job.

Hanane Llouh studies both history and fashion design in Antwerp, apparently she is also an activist, entering polemics with the prominent politician Filip Dewinter from Vlaams Belang party, who objects her imposing burkini swiming costume and the other attributes of Muslim culture onto Flemish lifestyle. “Follow your heart! If you choose a direction in which you always reluctantly dive behind the books, that will have a negative impact on your own well-being…” shares her thoughts student Llouh in an interview for University site, explaining her activism.

Apparently the heart of Ms.Llouh as compass is not accepted by everyone universally. Dewinter has been pointing at Llouh, while criticising wearing the veil in Univeristy of Antwerp (UA). “While women risk their lives in Iran to shed headscarves, Islam discrimination symbol is propagated here by UA! How cynical” he wrote. (Hanane Llouh on the image below in veil).

African Museum is one of five among Belgian establishments nominated for the ‘European Museum of the Year Award’, the European Museum Forum announced.

The Africa Museum has welcomed more than 350,000 visitors since it was re-opened in December 2019, according to BX1. Before the encounter with Antwerp University students. the expelled guide Dirk has conducted 70 groups, and neither of them complained about his narrative.

Belgium Africa Museum metamorphose

A new permanent exhibition of renovated African Museum is reflecting the image of modern Africa, focusing on present and future of the continent, taking a clear break from the concept of the past, narrating the European-centered view on African civilization. Undergoing a major reform, one century old notorious institution known as the Palace of Colonies, and later as Royal Museum for Central Africa, mainly focused on Congo, aims to get rid of the shadows of the past, without abandoning shared history.

On December 8  the African Museum opened it doors after five years renovation,  completely refurbishing the collection display in framework of a new philosophy. Next to the classical themes of masks and rituals, there are the new ones to arise, forming dazzling artifacts display telling stories of daily life and diaspora, languages and music, climate change, biodiversity, and the paradox of natural wealth.

We have developed a critical narrative of the colonial past, compared to one-sided perspective we used to offer” said the Museum Director Guido Gryseels.”We wish to become a ‘site of remembrance’ for both Belgians and Congolese, but not only a monument reminiscent of the past, much more of a dynamic platform for debate on future, welcoming all the opinions”.

We have definitely tried to develop a balanced narrative, by collating facts and memories to depict the most  comprehensive image, offering everyone an opportunity to the personal opinion of their own“, Mr. Gryseels concluded referring to a new mindset of the Museum. “We developed our approach based on the available, scientifically objective research. We morally distance ourselves from King Leopold II policy  as the ruler of the Congo Free State”. 

 

 

African Museum “half-celebration”

In spite of the €66 million investment into the renovation of the Africa Museum, and five years of intense reconstruction, for the representatives of Congolese diaspora the re-opening of a new concept institution is just a “half-celebration“, because the  in de-colonisation process should go “much further“.

Developing a new concept of Belgium Africa Museum its leadership invited  Africans themselves from the countries of the continent, and from diaspora to share their narrative, creating a genuine and meaningful platform for the debate, a work in process to reflect the continuous evolution of societies, and cultures towards each other, marking a clear break with the Colonial Palace Museum from the times of King Leopold II.

With this Museum Africa receives the place it merits – Africa existed before the colonization” – Billy Calonji from Congolese diaspora commented, reflecting on complex shared history of Belgium and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (VIDEO below in French language).

Through decades the Museum has been experiencing a fundamental cultural evolution, moving from West-centered vision of Africa to modern concept of a multi-polar world, and multi-cultural societies. From once upon a time a Colonial Palace with Royal collections of artifacts of Belgium kings it reshaped itself into modern fascinating platform for communications between people, cultures, and  civilizations.

Among precious experiences and metamorphosis of the Museum special place close to the  heart of Africans is kept for the ceremony of commemoration honoring the seven Congolese who did not survive the climate and perished being brought by the King Leopold II for the Universal Exhibition of 1897. A group of  267 Congolese was “imported” to stay in practiced in those days “human zoo”, re-creating life of Bantu tribes in Free State of Congo for the expo visitors.

On the sidelines of the reopening of the Africa Museum scheduled for this Saturday, December 8, a commemorative service has been held at noon in front of the seven graves lined up along the Saint-Jean Church, Tervuren. A week earlier a commemorative plate was installed in the Museum parc  to engrave the memory of those Congolese in a symbolic gesture to mark the place of the exhibition village. “We asked them for pardon, and we hope that the direction the Museum takes, is the way they could have wished”, Mr.Calonji continued.

However the shadows of the past are not able to overwhelm the vibrant future ahead of the Museum as a platform for debate, culture, and African studies which  are assessed as the positive elements by Billy Calonji, who holds in high esteem African diaspora efforts, actively participating in creating a new concept of African Museum, but nevertheless the work should continue even further.

During the renovation works the Museum has developed close relationships with members of African diaspora in Belgium in pursue of a new mindset: a synergy in cooperation within modern multicultural Belgium society, and beyond.

The partnerships with national museum in Rwanda, Musée des civilisations noires in Senegal, the national museum of Congo in Kinshasa, and in Lubumbashi have been developed.

A little bit of patience is needed, while waiting for the opening of the Museum in Kinshasa in Congo” said Mr.Calonji, refereing to the scheduled for the end of 2019 event, awaited by lovers of African art and culture, expecting to bring the dialogue between civilizations to a next stage.

In its engagement to overcome the notorious legacy of Belgium  colonial past, hundreds of artifacts were returned to Africa: to the Institute of National Museums of Congo in Kinshasa, and to the National Museum of Rwanda in Butare, but the work will go on the Director of the Museum Guido Gryseels confirmed. The digitisation of a significant  parts of archive has been undertaken to hand in the originals to Rwanda Museum.

We acknowledge that the moral ownership of the objects is with Africans themselves” said Mr.Gryseels  to international press at the preview visit.

 

 

Mukanda masks of Belgium African Museum

Mukanda schools masks create a mysterious setting presenting an image of an ancient ritual  of boys passing to manhood. The re-opened African Museum, Belgium, exposes a collection of artifacts from different tribes*, accompanied by explanations of the video hosts to guide a visitor into a universe of schooling by the spirits of masked deceased ancestors Makishiwho revisit the world of living to protect the young boys, and the entire village during the period of Mukanda school session.

The opening of school is a memorable moment of a night festivity, with plenty of food and Katasu beverage to frame the entrance to the first rituals on next morning: Nganga Mukanda or a ‘natural healer‘ will rub a clay into boys bodies to prepare them for a circumcision at Kateteveje ‘death place‘. The drums beat in frenzy to overwhelm the screams of the boys…

Curator and scientist Hein Vanhee devoted to the history of peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo at Africa Museum, and at the University of Gent Centre for Bantu Studies shares his knowledge of the mask collection (Video above).
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Image: above ‘The Rotunda‘ of African Museum, Belgium.

AMENDMENTS:

Tribes” is a term which we do not longer use, because it has colonial connotations and describes inaccurately the peoples about whom the exhibitions are. We prefer to speak of “peoples” in general of when referring to more local contexts we use “communities.Hein Vanhee.

Belgium Africa Museum opening

After five years of €66 million large-scale renovation Belgium Royal Museum of Central Africa opens its door on December 9th, under a new name, and with a new concept: it closes the chapter of the Colonial Palace of the epoch of King Leopold II, and moves on to Africa’s present and future.

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“…Our new permanent exhibition aims to depict the image of modern Africa, looking into the future, without overlooking the shared common past” said Guido Gryseels, the Museum Director, whose ambition is to provide a platform for debate, the meeting space, the exhibition place, the scientific laboratory, and the documentation center. (Image below: Guido Gryseels interviewed).

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We hope to become a real meeting place and centre for dialogue for people who have keen interest in Africa”, Mr. Gryseels added.

At present the Museum works together with diasporas, and builds partnerships with African museums in Rwanda, the Musée des Civilisations noires in Senegal, the national Museum of Congo, and the National Museum of Lubumbashi. There are expectations to have exchanges with a new museum in Kinshasa,  which will open the its doors in the end of 2019. (Image below: the Rotunda, African Museum, Belgium).

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The Museum has experienced a dramatic cultural evolution from Colonial past to a modern vibrant multicultural universe, introducing voices and opinions of Africans in various forms along the exhibitions, telling their own narratives. Furthermore, the new type of engagement is foreseen for recruitment of staff from African origin to ensure the diversity of employees.

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However the Director underlines, that the current state of the establishment under his leadership is “work in process“, a new beginning, a rebirth of a fascinating space, an ‘African island‘ in the middle of Belgium: 120 000 ethnographic artifacts, 10 000 animals, 8 000 music instruments, three kilometers of archive, 205 hectare site, with only one percent of treasures at display!

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African Museum, Tervuren, Belgium

http://www.africamuseum.be