Mariam Issoufou Kamara Named as Architect for Senegal’s New Museum

Mariam Issoufou Kamara of Atelier Masōmī Set to Design a New Museum in Senegal

WORDS Gina Dionisio PHOTOS ©Rolex / Stéphane Rodrigez Delavega RENDERS Supplied

Mariam Issoufou Kamara, an architect from Niger and founder of the award-winning practice atelier masōmī, has been selected by a jury to lead the design of Bët-bi.

Bët-bi, a new museum and centre for culture and community, located in southwestern Senegal near the historic city of Kaolack is due to open in early 2025.

Mariam Issoufou Kamara has been selected by a jury to lead the design of Bët-bi from a shortlist of four African architectural firms which also included Aziza Chaouni Projects (Fez and Toronto), MASS Design Group (Rwanda and global) and Meskerem Assegued and Elias Sime (Addis Ababa).

Mariam Issoufou Kamara

“It is a great honour and a privilege to be selected to lead the design of Bët-bi. For far too long our region has been a place where cultural wealth is pillaged to profit museum collections. This project is an opportunity to design a new type of space that is inspired by the roots and spiritual legacy of the region. It is a chance to push the boundaries of what defines a museum in the 21st century,” says Mariam.

READ MORE: Q&A with Architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara

Bët-bi – which means “the eye” in Wolof – will be constructed on a site in the vicinity of Kaolack situated in the Senegambia region of West Africa which is renowned for the remarkable ancient stone megaliths that proliferate across this area and includes four Unesco World Heritage sites. The 1000 square meter space will comprise exhibition and events spaces, community rooms and a library.

Mariam Issoufou Kamara
Atelier masōmī’s proposal for the project links the history of the stone megaliths with the present – building upon the significance of the area through a sensitive response to both the cultural heritage of the site and its future potential. Bët-bi’s design takes its inspiration from the people who have occupied this part of Senegal since the 11th century and are known for their profound spiritual connection not only to the land but to the natural elements such as the sun, wind and water.

Bët-bi will be a state-of-the-art museum using sustainable and traditional methods of building. Ensuring that the project is an opportunity for meaningful collaboration, atelier masōmī intends to work with local artisans to ensure that there is an exchange of knowledge and expertise.

“We approached this project through a look back at the site’s past. We looked at the history of the Saloum Kingdom very closely and have been absolutely fascinated by its origin story, as a place jointly founded by the Serer and the Mandinka people. The latter are historically also a people from the Mali empire who are known for their monumental architecture. As museums and galleries are a product of our more recent past, it is important for me that the project serves as a bold imperative to continue the recent dialogue around rethinking the typology in order to explore new spatial languages around museums,” explains Mariam.

Bët-bi will showcase contemporary and historic African art and celebrate the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa. It also plans to serve as a temporary space for repatriated African objects, expediting the critical undertaking of returning African art to the continent of its creation by acting as a facilitator between Western collections and the African nations and communities to whom the objects rightly belong but which may not currently have the resources to conserve them.

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