The family-run Zinsou Foundation, which was launched in 2005 in Cotonou in Benin, has opened the first museum dedicated to contemporary African art in sub-Saharan Africa. The museum, in the nearby town of Ouidah, will host exhibitions drawn from the family’s collection, built over the past eight years to support African artists and the African art market, which is still fledgling in many countries on the continent. The foundation receives €800,000 a year, mainly from the family’s private income.
The first exhibition, “Masterpieces of the Collection”, which opened on 11 November, has work by 13 artists from nine African countries, including the Beninese artists Romuald Hazoumé and Cyprien Tokoudagba, the Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, George Lilanga from Tanzania and Samuel Fosso from Cameroon. In a statement, the musem said that by presenting a collection of contemporary African art to the public, the museum “embodies the idea that Africa is looking to the future, but in doing so does not deny its past”.
The museum is housed in the newly renovated Villa Ajavon, which was built in 1922 and draws on a Brazilian style of architecture. Ouidah, which lies along the Gulf of Guinea, was a centre for the Atlantic slave trade for nearly 200 years. As the trading of slaves began to decline in the late 1800s, the descendants of slaves, many living in Brazil, returned to Ouidah and Benin, bringing with them their customs and culture.