Belgian museum faces up to its brutal colonial legacy
The institution dubbed the last colonial museum in the world is packing up its stuffed animals and controversial statues this weekend as it closes down for a three-year makeover aimed at modernising the monument to King Leopold II and his murderous reign in the Belgian Congo.
The Royal Museum for Central Africa, at Tervuren on the outskirts of Brussels, began life as a temporary exhibition in 1897. As accounts of mass murder, mutilation and enslavement began emerging from the Congo, which Leopold had been running as his private fiefdom since 1885, the king decided to host a show celebrating his great “civilising” mission and all the riches it would bring.
The exhibition was so successful that it was transformed into the permanent museum which stands today, all its neoclassical flourishes funded by money from the pillaged African nation. But while books such as King Leopold’s Ghost have exposed the brutal truth about the colonial occupation, the museum has remained frozen in time.
“The last time the museum was changed profoundly was in 1957, before the independence of Congo [in 1960],” said Guido Gryseels, the director, who is determined finally to haul the museum into the 21st century.
Entering the grand rotunda, visitors are greeted with statues of Europeans in gilded robes cradling naked African children, above plaques that extol Belgium for bringing “civilisation”, “security” and “well-being” to the Congo.
There is a wall devoted to the thousands of Belgians killed in the country, but barely a word on the millions of Congolese victims. Africans are portrayed as savages in loincloths and brandishing spears, while in almost every room there is a statue of a regal Leopold, including one bust carved entirely from ivory.
Belgium’s Congolese community has been lobbying the museum for decades to remove or contextualise the exhibits. Mr Gryseels said the turning point came in 2005 when the museum hosted an exhibition directly addressing colonial abuses. “Until that time in Belgium, everybody still followed the premise that Belgium had brought civilisation to Africa,” he said.
Now he feels the nation is ready for a museum reflecting modern Africa. When it reopens in 2017, the focus will be on showcasing the diversity of the continent in zones entitles “Man & Society” and “Landscape & Biodiversity”.
Visitors will no longer enter through the rotunda where the statues stand. Instead, they will pass through a tunnel explaining the context of the colonial-era exhibits, some of which will remain. “We are not going to throw everything out of this museum and just act as if the colonial past never happened,” Mr Gryseels said. “We will remain a place of memories on the colonial past but, at the same time, we want to become a window on contemporary Africa.”
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 4 George Galloway attacked on Notting Hill street by man 'shouting about the holocaust'
- 5 Brother and sister, Christopher Buckner and Timothy Savoy, arrested for 'committing incest after watching 'The Notebook''
Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
YouTube video posted by Isis militants shows 'execution of 250 Syrian soldiers'
Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
George Galloway attacked on Notting Hill street by man 'shouting about the holocaust'
Brother and sister, Christopher Buckner and Timothy Savoy, arrested for 'committing incest after watching 'The Notebook''
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- < Previous
- Next >
£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...
£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...
£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...
£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...