Cultural exchange Belgium

Tour planned for Gaddafi’s summit hits problems

Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Brussels is worried about sending its collection of wooden sculptures to Africa

Senegal artist Gora Mbengue's "Woman in Red" may still travel, while wooden objects like this Yoruban sculpture could be at risk (Photos: MRAC Tervuren)

brussels. A planned tour of a major exhibition of African art to Libya, currently on show in Belgium, is now under threat. Masterminded by Tanzania-born British architect David Adjaye, the show was due to open in Tripoli for the European-African summit in November, hosted by Colonel Gaddafi.

“Geo-graphics: a Map of Art Practices in Africa, Past and Present”, at the Bozar centre in Brussels (part of the “Visionary Africa” festival until 26 September), has at its heart 220 pieces of traditional African art (16th to 20th century), loaned by the Royal Museum for Central Africa in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren and Belgian private collectors. These are joined by contemporary art from eight organisations in Africa, as well as architectural photographs by Adjaye of 17 African capitals.

The main challenge has been to send the wooden sculptures from the Royal Museum on tour. The plan was that the museum would lend around a quarter of its 120 works currently at Bozar to Tripoli, and then to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and four further African venues. This was a generous move in light of a situation in 1967, when it lent sculptures to the national museum in Kinshasa (Congo) and 90 out of 114 works were stolen.

Now the Tervuren museum wants to make a fresh start in developing relations with Africa. Curator Anne-Marie Bouttiaux told us the travelling show is “very important, so I will fight for it”. She added that traditional art from sub-Saharan Africa has never been exhibited in Libya.

But the €300,000 pledged by the European Commission for the first three venues of the African tour is insufficient, and it is proving hard to find venues with appropriate environmental and security conditions. None of the Tripoli museums seem suitable, so the organisers are looking at government buildings associated with the summit.

The director of the Visionary Africa festival, Nicola Setari, said: “Although there is an ambition to present traditional art, that is proving beyond our capacity.” Hopefully photographs and some contemporary art will still go to Tripoli, along with a smaller selection of traditional art, but much will depend on what Gaddafi’s authorities can provide in support.

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