“They referred to as us the world’s final colonial museum,” says Guido Gryseels. 

He’s director-general of what’s now the AfricaMuseum, the reincarnation of the Royal Museum of Central Africa which closed on 1 December 2013 for refurbishment – and an entire change of philosophy.

The “Palace of the Colonies,” because it was referred to as upon opening in 1910, was funded by Belgian exploitation of what’s now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and occupies an excellent location in wooded parkland east of Brussels. 

No glory, although, surrounds the colonial adventures of Belgium and its murderous monarch, Leopold II.

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For Africa, colonisation was a disaster. As European nations plundered her individuals for slavery and her lands for wealth, they tore an excellent continent aside – creating divisions and battle which nonetheless burn right this moment.

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Leopold II of Belgium, second cousin of Queen Victoria, was the worst offender. In 1885 the Belgian king lower out the center of Africa – the huge Congo basin – and made it his private fiefdom because the “Congo Free State”. It was 80 occasions larger than Belgium, with a far bigger inhabitants.

Enslavement, illness and homicide on an industrial scale took the lives of thousands and thousands of Africans. Leopold II died a 12 months earlier than the museum opened, and his non-public colony turned the Belgian Congo, which gained independence solely in 1960.

Even then the museum continued to extol Belgium for bringing “civilisation”, “safety” and “well-being” to the Congo, and continued to depict Africans as savages.

“The picture of Africa that we had been conveying was based mostly on a notion of Africa from the Belgian perspective, pre-decolonisation,” says Mr Gryseels.

Colonial-era statues at the moment are countered by fashionable artwork (Simon Calder)

“As a substitute we wish to give attention to Africa within the current and future, with out overlooking the shared historical past of Belgium and the Central African international locations.”

As with Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Hague’s Mauritshuis within the neighbouring Netherlands, further house has been created by digging down.

Guests enter by way of a brand new glass pavilion, simply to the west of the palace, then descend to a tunnel. Additionally it is an underground gallery, whose central ingredient is a pirogue – a 74-foot, three-ton wood canoe. It was put in place almost three years in the past, and the remainder of the gallery constructed round it.

Within the basement of the palace, an introductory exhibition seems to be on the previous, current and way forward for an establishment that was arrange as a advertising and marketing train aimed on the Belgian individuals – however is now a part of Europe’s cultural heritage.

Guido Gryseels, director-general of the AfricaMuseum, stands beside a 74ft lengthy pirogue (Simon Calder)

As soon as on floor degree, a lot has been preserved: the parquet flooring, elegant ironwork and marbled halls have been painstakingly restored as a part of the €66m (£60m) venture.

Most of the reveals stay the identical, too, comparable to the large map charting 19th-century “elementary geographical discoveries” by European colonisers. 

Presenting a decolonised perspective of Africa in a constructing which was designed to do precisely the alternative is a troublesome name – partly addressed by modern artwork.

Congolese artists in Africa and Belgium had been invited to contribute works to counter the colonial-era statues. The Nice Rotunda is now dominated by Aimé Mpané’s Nouveau souffle ou le Congo bourgeonnant: the chiselled wood head of an African man on a pedestal of what seems to be molten bronze. 

Fashionable work from Congolese artists has been added (Simon Calder)

The reopening has been accompanied by requires the numerous artefacts introduced from Central Africa to be returned to the DRC; a brand new nationwide museum is because of open within the capital, Kinshasa, subsequent 12 months.

To handle such controversies, the museum has created the publish of journalist-in-residence. The primary was Denise Maheho from Radio Okapi within the Congolese metropolis of Lubumbashi. She says: “It was an excellent expertise to take heed to discussions on, as an example, the decolonisation of the museum, or the restitution or sharing of ethnographic objects stored in museums.”

Within the museum’s unique guise, the one deaths commemorated had been of 1,500 Belgians who died in Africa. Now the memorial wall for them has develop into a website of remembrance for the primary Congolese who had been delivered to Belgium and died there – with their names projected on the wall of the gallery.

A big a part of the museum’s unique attraction was its assortment of stuffed wildlife, and most of the poor creatures have been introduced again in, two by two – with a large elephant dominating the menagerie of useless animals.

Beforehand, an idealised imaginative and prescient of “pure Africa” was offered with no signal of human intervention, however now there may be lots on the numerous threats posed by man and local weather change to part of the world that’s fragile in all senses.

DRC continues to be in disarray, with the reemergence of the lethal ebola virus, rampant criminality within the east of the nation and politics in turmoil within the capital. 

The Overseas Workplace is warning potential British guests to not go to giant elements of the previous Congo Free State: 

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“The political and safety state of affairs stays unsure,” says the newest journey recommendation for DRC. “There have been continued requires basic strikes (‘ville morte’), civil disobedience and public protests.

“Within the occasion of significant unrest, business flights could also be suspended, roads blocked and borders closed, making it troublesome to depart the nation. Web connections and cell phone networks might have diminished providers or be lower off.”

However the AfricaMuseum’s director-general, Guido Gryseels, is optimistic concerning the prospects of the continent he portrays: “In 30 years from now, 40 per cent of the world’s inhabitants will stay in Africa.

“Africa is the continent of the longer term.”

Journey necessities

Getting there

To achieve the AfricaMuseum, a direct bus, quantity 830, runs from Brussels airport to the village of Tervuren, the place it’s situated, in about 40 minutes.

From the Eurostar rail terminal at Brussels Midi, take any practice to Brussels Central then the underground line 1 route Stockel, and alight at Montgomery. Keep beneath road degree and catch tram 44 to its terminus at Tervuren – a journey of 22 minutes. A single €2.10 ticket ought to cowl all the journey.

Extra info

The AfricaMuseum opens 11am-5pm from Tuesday to Friday, and 10am-6pm at weekends, admission €12.