An Intimate Museum Pushes Senegal’s Cultural Sphere Forward
Bët-bi, a state-of-the-art museum commissioned by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, will host African art and repatriated African objects, further bolstering Senegal’s thriving cultural sphere when it opens in 2025.
Nicholas Fox Weber, director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, has long focused on leveraging the late duo’s design principles to improve the living conditions of rural Senegalese communities. Upon launching Le Korsa, in 2005, the nonprofit opened a cultural center called THREAD for inhabitants of the rural village of Sinthian designed pro bono by Toshiko Mori. The firm then spearheaded an elementary school in Fass, a nearby village, and a new Maternity and Pediatric Unit for the overcrowded Tambacounda Hospital designed by Swiss-based architect Manuel Herz. Each structure shares subtle yet evocative references to Josef and Anni’s practices and Bauhaus principles, such as woven rooftops reminiscent of Anni’s textiles and geometric wall patterns that recall Josef’s prints.
The foundation’s latest project is no different: Bët-bi, a state-of-the-art museum and community center slated to open near the historic city of Kaolack in early 2025. Comprising galleries, event spaces, and a library, the 10,700-square-foot building will showcase contemporary and historic African art and temporarily house repatriated African objects.
Le Korsa enlisted Nigerien firm Atelier Masōmī, founded by architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara, to conceive a design using traditional building methods in collaboration with local artisans that pays tribute to the area’s heritage. “We looked at the history of the Saloum Kingdom very closely, and have been fascinated by its origin story, as a place jointly founded by the Serer and the Mandinka People,” Kamara says. “The latter are historically also a people from the Mali empire known for their monumental architecture.”
Bët-bi is the latest arrival to Senegal’s thriving cultural sphere, which continues to grow. Pritzker Prize winner Francis Kéré is working on the Goethe Institut, a German cultural exchange center located within a lush residential area in Dakar, the nation’s lively capital. Perhaps most notably, the painter Kehinde Wiley launched Black Rock, a residency and incubator program that hosts emerging artists near and far for up to three months, to much art-world fanfare. Repatriation is top of mind at the Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in late 2018 to shed light on the staggering scale of African artifacts held outside the continent by Western museums.
“For far too long, our region has been a place where cultural wealth is pillaged to profit museum collections,” Kamara continues. “This project is an opportunity to design a new type of space that’s inspired by the roots and spiritual legacy of the region. It’s a chance to push the boundaries of what defines a museum in the 21st century.”