Liberia’s National Museum, which suffered severe looting, damage and neglect as a result of the country’s 14-year civil crisis, has received a long-overdue makeover – a professional renovation and restoration by the government of Liberian through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT).
The museum, housed in the three-storey structure located on the corner of Broad and Buchanan Streets, is an example of typical mid-19th century Liberian settler architecture, which was originally designed as the nation’s first Court House. It was later used as the seat of the National Legislature, the Liberian Senate and House of Representatives.
The renovation included the replacement of the roof of the building, which used to leak so badly, endangering the artifacts that remained; the broken wall running parallel to Buchanan Street was also repaired. The second and third floors of the building, which were badly damaged, were replaced and reinforced.
In addition, the lack of electricity and pipe-borne water that hampered the smooth operation of the museum for years has been resolved.
The three floors of exhibitions, collectively entitled ‘Waves of Time,’ explore the ebb and flow of Liberia’s history, cultures, peoples and artistic expressions.
A new panoramic window on the first floor will give a sweeping view of the museum and portrays a wealth of information about the things in ancient times of the Republic. One of the displays features the evolution of currency used by Liberians, from the Lorma “rod-like” currency to the earliest banknotes, coins and later iterations of Liberian banknotes.
Although many of the exhibits were looted during the civil war, the curators have pieced together what could best be described as a contemporary starting point from which to tell the story of Liberia. It leaves room to delve into more historical narratives as well as the progressivity of Liberia’s modern history.
Thus, the National Museum is leading the way in how historical museums present the compelling ideas and ideals that make Liberia unique, through new exhibitions and programs of intellectual depth.
The museum underlines the extraordinary experiment—Of the People, by the People and for the People—that has reverberated through the centuries—grounded in freedom, possibility and opportunity, tempered by conflict, and strengthened by dissent and difference.
The top floor features a contemporary collection of works curated by eminent Liberian artist couple, Mama and Baba Shabu. The collection comprises pieces from painters Abu Fofana, Godwin Yoryor, Isaac Doubor and Lawson Sworh; textile artist Mohamed S. Bah, sculptor James Deiyee Zolo, poet Lekpele M. Nyamalon, as well as the Gbarnga Fiber Artists Collection.
The renovation work at the nation’s only museum is valued at US$400,000.
Addressing the reopening ceremony, Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said the newly renovated National Museum of Liberia will attract many people, including students and foreign visitors, and enable them to know more about Liberian culture.
Minister Nagbe explained that the exhibitions the museum presents and the stories it tells teach Liberians and visitors alike how Liberia and Liberians faced challenges of the past and made us who and what we are today.
“For more than a decade, the museum has been a shadow of its former self, ravaged by wars and other social disruptions. Now it is back, strong and vibrant, filled with Liberia’s art, culture and history,” he declared.
The Minister also used the occasion to thank President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for recognizing the significance of the institution and committing the resources needed to reconstruct and revitalize it.
“We also thank Ms. Carol Alexander, curator of the reopening exhibitions, for bringing the museum’s objects and stories alive so that all of us may experience the richness of Liberia’s history and culture.
“Entitled ‘Waves of Time,’ the exhibitions are invitations for you to see Liberia’s history and culture through fresh eyes,” Minister Nagbe told the audience.
He urged students and artists to be inspired to pursue artistic and scholarly interpretations of Liberia’s past, present and future.
Also speaking, Carol J. Alexander, curator and chief executive officer of MaBu, a cultural resource company, said she came to Liberia for the first time this year to celebrate the nation’s 170th independence anniversary. It was then that she was asked by President Sirleaf to help organize the artifacts in the museum.
“I am a storyteller. There is nothing I like more than a good story. Liberia has a great story! That is why I was so honored and pleased when President Sirleaf asked me to help tell the story of Liberia’s complex history and rich cultural heritage in its recently renovated National Museum.
“I came for just five days and I have been here virtually ever since. I have visited communities and counties, as far away as Harper. I’ve eaten hot peppered foods and drunk ginger drinks. I’ve met and talked to people, jumped rope with young girls and danced to Liberian drums and sounds,” said Madam Alexander.
Finally, “I read all I could about Liberia, and lived with and among the most wonderful Liberian people. The results are reflected in the three exhibitions used in the Museum’s artifacts, artwork, documents, photographs, and other memorabilia to present Liberia’s story in a Museum setting.
“I only had four months to work on it. So this is just phase 1 of your museum,” she explained.
Madam Alexander was the founding director of the Ritz Theater and Museum in Jacksonville, Florida (USA), the city’s 35,000 square foot museum and theater of African American history and culture.
Cutting the ribbon to the newly renovated museum, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the reopening of the National Museum marks another milestone in the history of Liberia and towards national reconstruction and development.
“I am proud that as President of Liberia I have been able to restore the symbols of the waves of our evolution and I call on all Liberians to share in this rich heritage by visiting the museum,” President Sirleaf urged the people.
The reopening of the museum, she stated, will give Liberians the opportunity to trace their history, to see the symbols of their leaders over time, to experience the waves of national evolution.