Togo inaugurated its first major contemporary art center last week after turning a former colonial palace into a space for exhibitions, galleries, and restaurants. The Palais de Lomé, located in the capital city of Togo, is the only fully state-funded contemporary art space on the African continent, and will exhibit works by artists from Togo and across Africa.
The Palais de Lomé was the residence of French and German colonial rulers and Togolese presidents, but was abandoned in the 1990s. The Togolese government commissioned architects in 2014 to restore the majestic building as part of a tourism push; it will open to the public this Thursday. The palace is surrounded by a botanical park with over 40 species of birds.
“It was a place of exclusion, a place that was closed and forbidden, now it is open to everyone,” Sonia Lawson, the director of the Palais de Lomé, told The Art Newspaper. She hopes to appeal to the whole continent and remain accessible to locals: Tickets will cost less than $2, and admission will be free one day each month. Lawson also hopes to attract corporate sponsors to cover operating costs. Palais de Lomé is already attracting international attention: American artist Kehinde Wiley attended the inauguration last week, and the West Africa curator at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin is planning to visit.
The museum also is a point of pride among the Togolese and those of the country’s diaspora. Claude Grunitzky, an editor of Tologese descent, writes on True Africa of his first trip to Palais de Lomé:
As we admired the grandeur in the undertaking, while paying attention to the details in the fabrication techniques, we witnessed a new sort of programmatic audacity. The heritage behind that curatorial elegance felt very Togolese, very African and also very worldly. The Palais de Lomé is not a perfect museum, but it’s just the kind of museum a city like Lomé needs right now.
Among the five inaugural exhibitions to open Friday is “Togo of the Kings,” which will feature artifacts from Togolese kingdoms, chieftaincies, and traditional communities. Another show honoring Kossi Aguessy, a designer from Togo who died in 2012, will be the first exhibition on the continent to focus on his work.