Belgium's brutality in Africa haunts refurbished museum | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 09, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, December 09, 2018

Belgium's brutality in Africa haunts refurbished museum

Belgium's notorious Africa Museum reopens on Saturday after a five-year restoration that curators hope will bury its reputation as a colonialist holdover.

Treasures looted from the continent have been repackaged in the hope of contributing to a more healthy debate about Belgium's brutal past and multicultural future.

But there is an elephant in the room -- and not just the giant taxidermic pachyderm looming over visitors to the remodelled Landscapes and Biodiversity gallery.

The former Royal Museum for Central Africa is reopening in the Tervuren Palace outside Brussels amid a renewed European debate about returning stolen artefacts.

The museum's research team insists the exhibits will now take a much more critical approach to the depredations of King Leopold II and his agents in Congo.

But should Belgium still be holding its African prizes at all and can it better integrate its growing African minority without first coming to terms with its past?

Several former imperial powers are confronting the issue, and last month French President Emmanuel Macron admitted that in principle Africa's treasures should return.

But Belgium stands out from its neighbours, in part because institutions like the Tervuren Museum have been relatively slow to adapt to the post-colonial era.

"The permanent exhibition had barely changed since 1958, two years before Congo became independent," says the collection's curator and anthropologist Bambi Ceuppens.

Before it closed for refurbishment in 2013, visitors were greeted by a statue uncritically depicting white European missionaries "bringing civilisation to Congo."

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