The Villa Ajavon, an ancient home built in 1922 in Quidah by a Togolese trader is one of the reminders of a slave trade fueled by the exploits of the Portuguese in the 16th century. Quidah was a central slave port where hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were kept and shipped to America, specifically the Caribbean and Brazil, according to Zinsou Foundation.
When the Dahomey colony established itself as an economic powerhouse, it relied on Quidah as one of the major trading centers. The Vila Ajavon, therefore, becomes an important historical monument that attracts hundreds of tourists to the region. But, it has now become a nerve center for arts enthusiasts and collectors interested in African art and history, according to Hindustan Times.
In the recent past, tourists were only in Quidah to explore and tour the slave dungeons and their history and learn about the Brazilian architecture which is scattered in the area. There is another offering for those who take a pilgrimage there. This is the Zinsou Museum which attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Benin City for its African art at its public gallery as well as the rich history embedded in the hundreds of artifacts on display.
In recent times, Zinsou Museum has grown to become a one-stop place for contemporary African art. It is one of the museums dedicated solely to contemporary African art in the sub-Saharan region. The brainchild behind the Zinsou museum is Marie-Zinsou. She wanted to create a gallery that will serve both local and international collectors and curators interested in African art.
She said the inspiration came from challenges she encountered when she wanted to take a youth group on a charity program in 2005 to an art museum. She struggled to get any place to take the children where there was an exhibition of African art.
With seed funds from a French Benin-based businessman and her father, she raised the required funds to establish the museum. The art gallery which was opened to the public in 2005 is accessible to both African and international artists and collectors.
Records from the Zinsou Foundation show that in the last eight years of its early operations, the museum attracted four million visitors mostly students. With time, the foundation has been able to collect a variety of contemporary African art. The goal is to make the Zinsou museum a go-to place for anyone interested in contemporary African art.
This is part of the bigger investment that has been made into Villa Ajavon in renovating the edifice to suit international standards. In order not to make drastic changes to the exterior of the building, no air conditioning has been installed in the main hall. Visitors will have to rely on ventilation from the openings to the building through sunlight corridors.