Mariam Issoufou Kamara will design a museum and a cultural center in Senegal

In Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, Bet-bi means “eye”.

From 2025, Bet-bi will also refer to a new museum and community center built near the historic town of Kaolack, Senegal, when that open their doors.

Comprising exhibition spaces, community rooms and a library, the nearly 3,300 square foot museum is envisioned as a cultural liaison between West African and international art institutions while remaining sensitive to local communities – a place to celebrate the culture of sub-Saharan Africa and facilitate global initiatives for the return of objects of West African origin. Based in Connecticut Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and The Korsa, the affiliated non-profit organizations that will operate the museum plan to harness the talent of local curators for exhibitions of contemporary and historical African art. Bët-bi will also host African objects repatriated from Western collections.

On May 10, the Josef and Anni Albers/Le Korsa Foundation announced that Mariam Issoufou Kamara, founding director of the award-winning Niger-based architecture and research practice masomi workshop, was selected to lead the design of Bët-bi. It was a unanimous decision taken by a jury made up of close partners of the association, as well as design and conservation professionals from all over the world. The panel chose from an impressive shortlist of four candidates, all with offices in Africa. Shortlisted alongside the masōmī workshop were Aziza Chaouni Projects (Toronto and Fez, Morocco), MASS Design Group (Boston, Kigali, Rwanda and other localities) and the team based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, composed of curator and anthropologist Meskerem Assegued and artist Elias Sime.

Aerial rendering of the future Bët-bi museum and community center. (© masomi workshop)

“It is a great honor and privilege to have been selected to lead the design of Bët-bi. For too long, our region has been a place where cultural wealth is plundered for the benefit of museum collections,” Kamara said in a press release. “This project is an opportunity to design a new type of space that draws inspiration from the region’s roots and spiritual heritage. It’s a chance to push the boundaries of what defines a museum in the 21st century.

Such sentiments echo the values ​​of public spirit that are at the very heart of the Nigerian architect’s practice. the mission statement of atelier masōmī, which Kamara founded in 2014 after studying architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, says his work “investigates the power of design to elevate, dignify and improve the quality of life people “. These efforts can be found in several company projects, including the Niamey Cultural Center. Located in the Nigerian capital (where the company is also based), the building draws inspiration from local needs, culture and tradition in its program and design. Kamara designed the cultural center under the mentorship of David Adjaye through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Initiativean international artistic program that combines young people and young talents with the masters.

atelier masōmī employs a similar approach in its proposal for Bët-bi, bringing the famous ancient stone megaliths of the Senegambia region of West Africa into the present. The company’s design is an ode to Senegal’s cultural history and a mosaic of traditions that preceded it.

Portrait of the architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara
Mariam Issoufou Kamara, architect based in Niamey, Niger. (©Rolex/Stephane Rodrigez Delavega)

“We looked closely at the Kingdom of Saloum and were fascinated by its origin story as a place founded jointly by the Serer and the Mandinka, which other ethnic groups later joined,” Kamara said in a statement. . written statement. “The Mandingos have historically been a people of empire and monumental architecture, which naturally provided us with direct references for construction. The Serers, on the other hand, had a deeply mystical indigenous religion that had an intimate relationship with the natural elements: the sun, the wind, the water, the ancestral spirits.

atelier masōmī wants Bët-bi to become a point of cultural intersection, starting with the way the museum is built. It will use sustainable and traditional construction methods and will involve exchanges of expertise with local craftsmen. Once complete, the studio hopes the museum will showcase the heritage of the site and provide accessible common areas where all are welcome.

Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Founder and President of its Senegalese philanthropic subsidiary Le Korsa, added in a statement: “Bët-bi will be an institution where everyone, regardless of background, can celebrate and discover the unparalleled wonders of visual art. People who may never have entered a museum as well as international visitors will have the chance to appreciate the art linked to the culture of the Sahel and to experience it as an essential respite from the inevitable difficulties of life.

About Bobby F. Lopez

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