A Museum is Born: Albert-Charles Wulffleff and the Parc-Musée of Dakar, 1936
Dakar’s art museum was in the early stages of development in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Its creators intended it as a catalyst for specific types of knowledge. That occurred, although in unanticipated ways. Designed by the Swiss/French architect Charles-Albert Wulffleff, it is one example of Africa’s rich heritage of Art Deco architecture. Looking at the specific circumstances of its planning reveals layer upon layer of complexity, or irony at every turn. French colonial authorities did not impose a French style on Senegal as much as they furthered a set of representational norms, which they deployed in differing circumstances. Wulffleff is not well known. Elsewhere he created modern buildings, but his West African buildings – he also designed Dakar’s Catholic Cathedral – are fusions of Beaux-Arts, Art Deco, and a number of historicisms. Parts of the museum are based on African precedents, although in a convoluted way. The immediate influences were colonial exhibition buildings that emulated African structures of questionable authenticity. Wulffleff contributed more to African modernity than he did to architectural modernism. The building and its collections demonstrate the ambiguities of French colonialism; it was intended to promote knowledge and cross-cultural understanding, but in fostering an African elite, it also helped set the stage for African independence.