Forgotten Pasts and Preserved Heritage, Benin’s African Contemporary Art Museum

Zinsou foundation contemporary African art in the Villa Ajavon in Ouidah

The port city of Ouidah stands today as a cultural hub of arts and religion in Benin. During the transatlantic slave trade, however, Ouidah’s reputation was bleak. Located on the coast of West Africa, Ouidah was the site of the Tree of Forgetfulness, where enslaved men, women, and children were forced to encircle the tree that would make them forget their identities and histories before being shipped off to the Americas. Although it may have been a process that was more metaphoric than real, the histories and cultures that were allegedly forgotten are now preserved in West Africa’s first contemporary art museum located in Ouidah. The Zinsou family established the free museum in the facade of the early 20th-century Afro-Brazilian edifice–Villa Ajavon. The museum has thrived since its debut in November 2013. By exhibiting the works of local and international artists, such as Romuald Hazoumé, the museum stands as a marker of Africa’s significance to the art world. Hazoumé exhibits paintings and photos that reflect his Beninese culture and religion, which is very much in line with the museum’s mission to preserve African artistic heritage within the actual continent. For more information on the museum and the Zinsou Foundation, visit the official website at

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