African Museum

I’ve written about some of Brussels interesting museums before but none is more unique than the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Housed in an enormous ‘palace’ on the edge of the village of Tervuren, the museum mainly focuses on the Congo and tells (part of) the history of this former Belgian colony. Although the museum is currently closed for renovation, there is a special exhibition running until 31 August entitled Uncensored: Vivid tales from behind the scenes.

The museum, along with Avenue de Tervuren and tram, was originally built as an exhibition by King Leopold at his royal estate in Tervuren during the 1887 World’s Fair to attract investors to the Congo. The exhibition displayed ethnographic objects, stuffed animals and in the “Hall of the Great Cultures” Congo’s most important export products like coffee, cacao and tobacco. They even built a copy of an African village in the adjacent park, in which 60 Africans lived during the Fair.

In 1889 the exhibition was made into a permanent museum and then in 1904 King Leopold began construction of the museum building as we now know it, a neoclassical-style palace with large gardens. The Museum of the Belgian Congo opened in 1910 (after Leopold’s death) and then following Congolese independence in 1960 the name was changed to The Royal Museum for Central Africa.

As highlighted by the reaction to the book King Leopold’s Ghost, the history of Belgium’s colony is a very sensitive subject in this country. The museum opened a new exhibition in 2005 to try to tell a more holistic story of what happened in the Congo Free State and is now undergoing a complete renovation to modernize the very dated permanent exhibition. While the museum is closed for works, the public can get a behind-the-scenes peek.

The UNCENSORED exhibition offers one last chance to visit the museum as it was originally built, in all its colonial (disturbing) grandeur. The curators have collected some of the most unusual elements (like a giant stuffed elephant!) from the old exhibition and displayed them in a series of rooms and the museum’s cellars. According to the website, this temporary exhibition “illustrates the wealth of the collections, the scientific research, the history of the museum … whilst at the same time serving as an opportunity to display the objectives and motives for innovation.”

The entrance fee (with audio guide) is €7 for adults, €6 for seniors and €4.50 for children 12-17 (children under 12 are free). You can get a discount coupon if you sign up to the museum newsletter here.

I’ll be curious to see the new African museum when it reopens in May 2015. Let’s hope it portrays a more accurate history of what happened in the Congo and a more contemporary view of Central Africa.

Leuvensesteenweg 13, 3080 Tervuren
Tel: +32 2 769 52 11
Open: Tuesday to Friday, 10am-5pm, Saturday & Sunday, 10am-6pm (open most public holidays)

Images via Wikipedia.

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