Mariam Issoufou Kamara Chosen to Design New Museum and Center for Culture and Community in West Senegal
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Le Korsa has announced that Niger-born architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara, founder of award-winning practice atelier masōmī, has been selected to design Bët-bi, a new museum and center for culture and community in southwestern Senegal. Located near a series of megaliths in the vicinity of the historic city of Kaolack, Bët-bi is set to be a state-of-the-art museum that sits at the forefront of West Africa’s flourishing arts scene and wider cultural renaissance.
Bët-bi, which means “the eye” in Wolof, will be constructed on a site renowned for its ancient stone megaliths and includes four Unesco World Heritage sites. The 1000-square-meter project will feature exhibition and events spaces, community rooms, and a library, designed to create accessible communal spaces and an environment that is open and inclusive for all visitors. Honoring the site’s significance, the building responds to the historic and cultural complexities of the site, drawing attention to the unique heritage of the Kaolack region.
Bët-bi’s design is inspired by the people who have lived and worked in this part of Senegal since the 11th century, and are known for their spiritual connection to the land and natural elements such as the sun, wind, and water. The museum will display contemporary and historic African art, and celebrate the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa. Art will be its focal point and will offer a dedicated education programme with a variety of initiatives aimed at engaging local and national communities with art from all corners of the globe. The museum aims to play an important role in the global initiatives to facilitate and secure the return of objects of West-African origin. A temporary space will be dedicated for repatriated African objects, highlighting the return of African art to the continent of its creation.
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Atelier masōmī is planning to collaborate with local artisans, ensuring that the project offers an an exchange of knowledge and expertise by local professionals. The museum also intends to partner with a range of institutions in Africa and overseas to facilitate internship and guest curator programs.
We approached this project through a look back at the site’s past. We looked at the history of the Saloum Kingdom very closely and have been absolutely fascinated by its origin story, as a place jointly founded by the Serer and the Mandinka people. The latter are historically also a people from the Mali empire who are known for their monumental architecture. As museums and galleries are a product of our more recent past, it is important for me that the project serves as a bold imperative to continue the recent dialogue around rethinking the typology in order to explore new spatial languages around museums. — Mariam Issoufou Kamara
The architect has been selected by a jury from a shortlist of four African architectural firms. She founded atelier masōmī in 2014, in Niger’s capital, Niamey, tackling public, cultural, residential, commercial, and urban design projects. The project is expected to be open to the public in 2025.