Benin, in West Africa, already plays a central role in the continent’s culture but with four new museums planned to open in the next three years, the country looks set on becoming the must-see destination for art tourism in Africa.

Culture is at the heart of Benin’s tourism development project, launched in 2016 by Benin President Patrice Talon. With the return of 26 art works from France to Benin early 2022 and its presentation at the Palace of Presidency in Cotonou, Benin’s Ministry of Culture unveiled a plan to build four new cultural institutions across the country. As well as economic implications, it is hoped that these four new museums will help turn Benin into one of the most desirable destinations for cultural tourism in Africa.

The planned museums – International Museum of Memory and Slavery (MIME) in Ouidah, the Museum of the Epic of the Amazons and Kings of Dahomey in Abomey, the International Museum of Arts and Civilisations of Vodun in the ancient colonial city of Porto-Novo (Benin current capital) and the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Benin’s economic capital, Cotonou – are part of a €1 billion investment dedicated to building, renovating and enhancing the country’s cultural treasures.

Museum of the Epic of the Amazons and Kings of Dahomey

The most eagerly awaited new museum is, undoubtedly, the Museum of the Epic of the Amazons and Kings of Dahomey, which is due to open in Abomey in the heart of the palatial site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, at the end of 2024.

The building has been designed by French-Cameroon architect Françoise N’Thépé. The structure is totally environmental friendly using local material (bricks and terracotta) which will provide a constant temperature level, without having to use air-con or natural ventilation which would bring dust inside the exhibition rooms.

The museum is intended to revive the past grandeur of the Kingdom of Dahomey. It will tell the story of the birth of a multi-ethnic nation, and will house the 26 works of art returned by France as well as a collection of some 350 art objects. The scenographic design will echo the African oral tradition and is based on the constant juxtaposition of an objective story and a legendary tale: the temporal and the supernatural. Most of the museum will be interactive and immersive.

Rendering of the International Museum of Memory and Slavery in Ouidah (Picture:© Eremco)

International Museum of Memory and Slavery

As one of the countries most affected by the slavery trade, by the end of 2022 Benin will open its International Museum of Memory and Slavery (MIME) in the coastal town of Ouidah, which still bears a large number of structures built in an Afro-Brazilian architectural style. In the 18th century, Ouidah became the second largest slave port in the trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Over a million men, women and children were sold at auction.

The MIME is installed in the former Fort São João Baptista, built by the Portuguese and was previously the Museum of History of this town. Expanded and renovated, the museum invites the visitor to discover, within a chronological thematic path, the history of slavery and the transatlantic deportation (trade) which affected the Benin territory for nearly 400 years. Stories of local people from the Gulf of Benin are at the heart of this tragic history.

Museum of Arts and Civilisations of Vodun and Museum of Contemporary Arts

Around 2025, the new International Museum of Arts and Civilisations of Vodun will open its door in Porto Novo. Vodun, which means spirit, is the animist religion which was exported into the “New World” during the slavery trade. It has been better known as the Voodoo (Vudu or Vodon depending of the location) in the Americas. The religion is practiced by many ethnics in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.

The museum aims to provide intellectual and visual means for a better understanding of Vodun through objects, stories, myths and legends as well as contemporary arts and creativity. The construction of the museum has been attributed to a team of architects from the Côte d’Ivoire.

Finally, in the making is the new Museum Of Contemporary Arts in Cotonou (MACC) which is due to open by 2024. In a recent temporary exhibition hosted in Cotonou, parts of the future museum’s collection was made available to the public: The “Contemporary Art of Benin” section of the art exhibition brought together 34 contemporary artists and more than a hundred works, displaying the artistic vitality of the Beninese scene.

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