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Museum of West African Art Announces the Opening of the MOWAA Institute

June 18 2024
7 minute read

BENIN CITY, NIGERIA, JUNE 12, 2024 —The Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) today announced that the MOWAA Institute, the first facility on MOWAA’s 15-acre Campus, will open on November 4, 2024. Located in the historic heart of Benin City, the MOWAA Campus will host visitors from across the region at its array of complementary facilities and public spaces for display, performance, interaction, and commerce, designed through the collaboration of local and international architects.

The MOWAA Institute will support museums and cultural organizations in West Africa as a site for ongoing research and a hub for training in archaeology, conservation, heritage management and museum practice. With 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of space, the Institute will serve as a center for knowledge generation and creative collaborations, with a purpose-built arts storage and conservation lab at the core. The MOWAA Institute will be the engine room for the campus’s  many programs in research, education, and public outreach, several of which have already been in operation while the building has been under construction and will be amplified upon the opening this November.

Under the leadership of its Director, Ore Disu, the MOWAA Institute will mark the completion of its building with two days of events celebrating the theme “Museum in the Making: Rediscovering a West African identity, philosophy and practice”. The full schedule of inaugural activities for the MOWAA Institute will be announced closer to the opening date.

Phillip Ihenacho, Executive Director and Chairman of MOWAA, said, “This is a monumental year in the ongoing development of MOWAA. This spring, we celebrated Nigeria on a global stage by serving as the official organiser of the country’s national pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Now, as we look ahead to fall, we highlight our achievements in Benin City with the inauguration of the first of the facilities on our MOWAA Campus, the MOWAA Institute.  With the Campus, we envisioned a space where everyone could feel welcome – one that catered to diverse creative expressions and pursuits. Our decision to start with the MOWAA Institute is thus no accident. It was a deliberate, strategic decision to begin with a strong foundation for artists and heritage managers and to instill a sense of collective responsibility to work together to preserve and celebrate heritage. The Institute is the intellectual powerhouse of all our Campus programs and a catalytic, responsive force beyond our site. We look forward to welcoming our generous donors, our collaborators in-country and around the world, and, above all, the residents of Benin City to the opening events.”

Ore Disu said, “This inauguration presents an opportune moment to engage others in candid, reflective discussions on what it means to be a ‘West African’ museum and how museum practices on the continent must evolve to address the realities and diverse audiences of the 21st century, moving beyond simply replicating Global North models. What does it really mean to reposition African leadership in archaeology, conservation, collections management, and exhibitions – and why does it matter? We are at an interesting point in our journey. Our vision is perhaps now more tangible, yet we are still in the process of reimagining and recontextualizing ‘the museum’ within an African contemporaneity and transnational reality. MOWAA must build meaningful connections and respond to real aspirations. In keeping, we are inviting people to be part of this critical debate and making process, not just to attend an event. It’s a conscious push for us to not have a finished product, but to leave room for other ideas to take root, to substantively inform our programs and even our way of working. We hope our visitors become allies in this transformative agenda and leave with a sense of the deep symbolic and historic importance of Benin City for Black and African civilizations.”

Yinka Shonibare, CBE, RA commented, “What the Museum is doing is amazing, and I support it wholeheartedly. It’s essential; there’s an institution actually made for local people in their own way, on their own terms.”

In addition to the MOWAA Institute, facilities in development include the Rainforest Gallery, an exhibition building for contemporary art, which is nestled in a replanted rainforest; the Art Guesthouse, which will provide accommodation for visiting researchers, academics, artists, and tourists; and the Artisans Hall, a reimagination of the ancient Kingdom of Benin’s architecture, serving as a curated retail space for today’s artisans to showcase a living and thriving culture.

MOWAA Institute Design

The single-story MOWAA Institute building provides approximately 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of highly sustainable interior space for state-of-the-art facilities for archaeological research, conservation, and public programs. The building features an atrium exhibition gallery with views into the collection study area, a 100-seat auditorium, conference rooms, conservation laboratories, a library, and an outdoor amphitheater. Set within the ancient moats of the Benin Kingdom, the rammed-earth construction links the building to the West African heritage that will be honored by MOWAA throughout the Creative Campus. The building also serves as a model for the care and preservation of the many other mud-wall structures in Benin City and meets global standards of sustainability. The MOWAA Institute building is designed by Adjaye Associates, with the Lagos-based firm of MOE+ responsible for construction supervision.

The Collections Facility within the Institute will provide expansive, state-of-the-art storage facilities with public display and research space. These facilities will enable collaboration with institutions and collectors across the continent in support of their restitution, preservation, and research initiatives. MOWAA has plans to grow a collection of exceptional art and cultural objects while highlighting the craftsmanship, ingenuity, and interconnectedness of the region. By preserving and showcasing works that pay tribute to the ideas and creativity of ancient communities, MOWAA aims to educate and enlighten local and global audiences.  This will be activated by MOWAA’s Digital Heritage Lab, which will make cultural content of Nigerian and African origin easy to access, use, and reuse for global engagement.

The Archaeological and Materials Science Lab will expand scholarship affording access to advanced technologies to enable scientific processing, digital mapping and interpretation in efforts to deepen knowledge of Africa’s civilizations and their material heritage. Programs to foster wider learning and public engagement will be cultivated under the Institute’s Materials Research and Center for Field Archaeology.

Learning and Outreach at MOWAA Institute

The MOWAA Institute approach to learning and outreach focuses on how we engage with archives and collections, ultimately challenging rigid notions of expertise and exclusivity. When the MOWAA Institute opens, existing programs in field archaeology—conducted in partnership with Nigeria’s National Commission of Museum and Monuments (NCMM), the British Museum and the University of Cambridge—will be joined by activities such as “Discovery Days” for the public, with simulated digs and creative workshops; residency programs for artists and curators, student fellowships; and more. Along with its inaugural exhibition, the MOWAA Institute will launch the multi-year art management fellowships, offering technical training, workshops, and shadowing opportunities to practitioners drawn from public, private, and community-based institutions in Nigeria, and eventually from across West Africa. Each program is designed to deepen connections to art and heritage within local communities and institutions and to inspire a new generation of young professionals and scholars in these fields.

About Ore Disu

Ore Disu has led the MOWAA Institute since January 2022 as its first Director, bringing to it more than a decade of experience in cultural programming, research, and stakeholder management for early-stage organizations. Educated at the University of Cambridge (BA in Architecture) and University College London (MSc in Urban Development Planning), she has implemented grants and contributed to the efforts of non-profit organizations including the Ford Foundation, Goethe Institute, Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Overseas Development Institute, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Africa Centre for Cities. From 2016 through 2019, she served in the UK’s Department for International Development as Senior Research Partnerships Manager for the agency’s governance and accountability program in Nigeria. She subsequently moved to a multi-national social enterprise, serving as the Government Relations and Partnerships Lead for pilot programs in Uganda, India, and Nigeria. She has been active as a consultant as the founding Executive Director of Nsibidi Institute in Lagos, Nigeria, and as an Associate of the UK-based firm The Policy Practice.

About MOWAA

The Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) was formed in 2020 as an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage, the expansion of knowledge, and the celebration of West African arts and culture. Through ongoing partnerships, MOWAA offers programs and resources that foster deeper connections between contemporary art and culture and the rich heritage of West Africa while creating a center of excellence for African and diaspora artists and scholars. MOWAA’s 15-acre Creative Campus in the historic heart of Benin City will comprise multiple buildings and public spaces for display, performance, interaction, and commerce, designed through the collaboration of local and international architects. Complementing MOWAA Institute, campus facilities will include the Rainforest Gallery, an exhibition building for contemporary art nestled in a replanted rainforest; the Art Guesthouse, providing accommodation for visiting researchers, academics, artists, and tourists; and the Artisans Hall, a reimagination of the ancient Kingdom of Benin’s architecture, serving as a curated retail space for today’s artisans to showcase a living and thriving culture.

 

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