Nicholas Fox Weber, director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, has long been committed to leveraging the late duo’s design principles to improve living conditions in rural Senegalese communities. When Le Korsa was launched in 2005, the association opened a cultural center called THREAD for the inhabitants of the rural village of Sinthian designed pro bono by Toshiko Mori. The company then ran a primary school in Fass, a nearby village, and a new maternity and pediatric unit for the overcrowded Tambacounda hospital designed by Swiss architect Manuel Herz. Each structure shares subtle yet evocative references to Josef and Anni’s practices and Bauhaus principles, such as woven roofs reminiscent of Anni’s textiles and geometric wall patterns reminiscent of Josef’s prints.
The foundation’s latest project is no different: Bët-bi, a state-of-the-art museum and community center set to open near the historic town of Kaolack in early 2025. Comprising galleries, event spaces and a library, the 10 The 700-square-foot building will showcase contemporary and historic African art and temporarily house repatriated African artifacts.
Le Korsa enlisted Nigerien firm Atelier Masōmī, founded by architect Mariam Issoufou Kamara, to come up with a design using traditional construction methods in collaboration with local artisans that pays homage to the region’s heritage. “We took a very close look at the history of the Kingdom of Saloum and were fascinated by its origin story, as a place founded jointly by Serer and Mandingo people,” says Kamara. “The latter are historically also a people of the Mali Empire known for its monumental architecture.”
Bët-bi is the latest addition to Senegal’s thriving cultural sphere, which continues to grow. Pritzker Prize-winning Francis Kéré works at the Goethe Institut, a German cultural exchange center located in a lush residential area of Dakar, the country’s bustling capital. Perhaps most notably, painter Kehinde Wiley launched Black Rock, a residency and incubator program that hosts emerging artists near and far for up to three months, to much fanfare in the art world. Repatriation is a priority at the Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in late 2018 to shed light on the staggering scale of African artifacts held outside the continent by Western museums.
“For too long, our region has been a place where cultural wealth is plundered for the benefit of museum collections,” continues Kamara. “This project is an opportunity to design a new type of space that draws inspiration from the region’s roots and spiritual heritage. It’s a chance to push the boundaries of what defines a museum in the 21st century.