Outrage has sparked following photos that have emerged of an "Africa Party" held at the grounds of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium. Revellers of the party were adorned in blackface and "colonizer chic" attire.
The Royal Museum of Central Africa is a constant reminder of the horrors that Belgium and King Leopold II of Belgium inflicted in the Congo Free State. The museum is home to more than 180,000 looted items, including the beheaded skulls of vanquished tribal chiefs, and more than 500 stuffed animals slaughtered by hunters. The museum was formed to celebrate the exploits of the Belgians who turned a huge swathe of Africa into a slave state.
The museum is also near the former royal estate where the infamous human zoo was located. In 1897, a human zoo of 267 Congolese people was exhibited in the grounds of the former royal estate. Seven Congolese died of exposure after being shown to about a million Belgians during the World Exhibition.
On Sunday, about 2,000 people attended an open-air party organised by a company called Thé Dansant. Social media photos showed some party members in blackface, others in leopard skin print, and others dressed as colonial explorers.
Speaking to the Bruzz newspaper, Emma Lee Amponsah of the Café Congo Organisation said, "Ethnic, exotic or African is not a costume that you can put on and take off."
A stage in the party was decorated with skulls on sticks to evoke an image of voodoo and cannibalism. Emma criticised this, saying, “In this way, stereotypes are constantly being maintained. Explain to me how an event like this can still exist in 2019.”
However, party organiser Kjell Materman has maintained that there was nothing wrong with the exhibition.
“Even if one person painted his face black, it was not meant to be offensive. Many people of African origin were enthusiastic about the concept and were present,” Kjell said.
Last year, after a ten-year project to "detoxify" the museum's colonial history, the museum was re-opened with African artists invited to display their work. The museum claims it does not have much control over the grounds.
Part of the statement reads, "We agreed to provide access to the site based on the recommendation of the municipality of Tervuren. When the event was announced on Facebook, we noticed that the dress code encouraged by Thé Dansant would likely encourage highly clichéd and highly stereotypical representation of people of African origin. We immediately contacted Thé Dansant to point out the potential consequences of this approach and to ask the organisers to change the dress code. The measure turned out to be insufficient."
Primrose Ntumba, a museum spokeswoman, said there was nothing they could do to stop the event.
“I think it is very unfortunate that Thé Dansant does not see that an 'African fancy dress' party can cause angry reactions, and all the more so at this location,” she said.
According to the museum statement, it will do more to ensure that such party does not occur again at the grounds.
"We take responsibility for this lapse in judgement and are working on an ethical action plan for upcoming events so that the situation does not repeat itself in the near future," the statement read.
Belgium is yet to apologise for the atrocities it committed in Africa.
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