Musée National du Mali: Art conservation, research and prevention

March 2007 -

Mali's National Museum is a lively and active institution that plays a prominent part in combating art theft and cultural heritage trade in the region. Bram Posthumus wrote a portrait of the winner of the Prince Claus Award in 2006. Pass through a high square entrance over which water always flows and you enter a large and leafy garden. An artificial stream flows back to the entrance, representing Mali's lifeline, the Niger. Scale models of a few famous buildings, like the Djenné mosque, are shown in the garden. The exposition rooms, the cafeteria and the library, built in the regional style, exude the same peace of the centuries.


Musee National du Mali. Copyright: Prince Claus Fund

The Mali National Museum has been accommodated in this beautiful, roomy housing since 1981. The institution does research but also primarily exhibits art. Each of the three large exposition sections with tasteful lighting has its own theme.

The reconstructed villages and numerous artifacts in the archaeology section clearly show how many thousands of years this country has served as a trade intersection, with arms reaching out to Spain, to Egypt and, of course, along the river. The ritual art section displays the masks, statues and other pieces used by the many peoples who live here, and those are more than just the Dogon. And in a monumental room measuring seven hundred square meters, Mali's ancient textiles culture is displayed. Basin, the basic shape, bogolan, the raw carpets and naturally the great costumes.

Quite a few objects were delivered by the French customs authorities. Art theft is an enormous problem, but the museum is devoting significant effort to awareness: "This is our national heritage – don't waste it." Art thieves are not easy to stop, but luckily there is the law. Clandestine export of archaeological artifacts and cultural heritage is a crime in Mali.

The museum won the Prince Claus Award in 2006 in recognition of its efforts to save the cultural heritage and for the part it plays in culture and development. Modern life regularly visits this spot. Upon returning to the entrance, a radio is blasting next to a camera. Tight T-shirts, trendy caps and sunglasses mime a new rap video clip. The National Museum is one of the city's favourite backdrops.