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Nigerian architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara designs new Bët-bi museum in Senegal

The museum’s design is inspired by its surroundings; the ancient megaliths of the Kaolack region in Senegal.

By Palesa Kgasane  | May 12, 2022 | Architecture

The new Bët-bi museum will be located near the town of Kaolack in Senegal. Bët-bi means “eye” in Wolof, one of Senegal’s national languages. The entire project is an ode to the preservation of heritage and culture. Mariam Issoufou Kamara of studio Atelier Masōmī recently revealed the design for the museum that will focus on art from the Sub-Saharan Africa region and also function as a centre for culture and community. It is slated to open in 2025.

Kaolack is known for its ancient megaliths and the 1,000-square-metre building that will house the museum was designed in response to its surroundings. "Atelier Masōmī 's proposal links the history of the stone megaliths with the present – building upon the significance of the area through a sensitive response to both the cultural heritage of the site and its future potential," the studio said. This consideration is one that aligns with preserving places of historical significance while developing the surrounding region for tourism. Atelier Masōmī also plans to enlist local artisans to collaborate with on the project to draw attention to the region’s heritage.

Bët-bi museum render by Atelier Masōmī

The design references the Serer and the Mandinka people who founded the Kaolack region. The triagular shape references the spiritual and cultural beliefs of these groups of people. "The starting point came from looking at this traditional spiritual realm and the series of triangles that define the relationship between the elements, the living and the dead – a self-renewing cycle," Kamara said.

While global initiatives to repatriate art and historical objects from Africa take place, the museum plans to temporarily house repatriated African objects and aims to play a role in securing the role of these objects. The building of this museum is thus significant for so many reasons, especially in the context of West African art.

"For far too long our region has been a place where cultural wealth is pillaged to profit museum collections,“ says Kamara. "It is a great honour and a privilege to be selected to lead the design of Bët-bi.”