Meschac Gaba – Museum of Contemporary African Art & More, Kunsthalle Fridericianum - image via essentaste

Meschac Gaba/ Ekué Woekedje Meschac Gaba

Benin 1961

Installation

Meschac Gaba
Ekué Woekedje Meschac Gaba
Male
Benin
1961

The exquisite body of work which is in general based on the post-colonial critique of contemporary world positions Meschac Gaba as one of the most established African artists. His staggering installations are a result of ongoing activity to introduce a different kind of a discourse in regards to the notion and perception of what African art is. Concisely and with a dose of wit, Gaba conducts vast research and provides a selection of layers in order to achieve an effect of the collections referring to the everlasting western cannon of exoticising view upon the others. With proficiency and great effort, the artist managed to rose himself above the common perspective of his work connoted to be only politically charged and stayed loyal to maintaining the agenda of contemporaneity.

In 2002 he showed a new project consisting African objects in Tate Modern gallery space
Meschac Gaba – Marriage Room From Museum of Contemporary African Art, 1997–2002 – image via tate.org.uk

Out of The Cannons

Ekué Woekedje Meschac Gaba was born 1961, in Benin. It was in the year after the country gained independence from France which makes the artist part of a generation of African contemporary artists aware of the hazardous impact of colonialism. The beginnings of his art practice were difficult since the are artist was an autodidact, but after he attended the workshop of the painter Zossou Gratien things started to change. His work became noted after the first solo exhibition in Benin and he was shortly after invited by a French foundation in 1990 which was followed by the journey to Senegal and the Ivory Coast. In 1996, Gaba moved to Amsterdam after being accepted at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende kunsten. His career starts to develop really fast – his works become included not only in the group exhibitions , rather they become part of various collections on the international scale.

The complexity of cultural divides expressed throughout installation art

The space included a game room which was pure opposition to the traditional Western models
Meschac Gaba – Brazilian Bank, 2006 – image via arnolfini.org.uk

Articulating Heritage Differently

His innovative approach becomes formed after Gaba saw grand collections of several European museums. He was not able to connect neither his identity nor his perception of art to that heritage which was usually a consequence of various combats and conquests. Therefore, it can be said that his production is an ironical hybrid of local ancestry and European aesthetical models and their inner relation in regards to Africa’s oppressive history and current poverty. Gaba’s work is focused on the devastating effects of raging globalization which goes hand in hand with the before mentioned colonization. That agenda is embedded in deep understanding and awareness of complex relations between culture, society, and economy.[1]

Representing African heritage in contemporary context

In the modern museum and gallery setting in 1997 and 2002 he criticized Africa empowerment
Meschac Gaba – Architectural wigs 2007-08 – image via tanyabonakdargallery.com

Money Talks

Mostly all of Gaba’s works are rotating around the motif of money bills. Whether used as the constitutive or additional element, they apparently represent pillars of the world market and politics which is a common place. Nevertheless, the way the artist manipulates with banknotes, how they become re-contextualized and reveal the new meaning of what art is today, is what makes them political signifiers of contemporary society. Perhaps the finest example is the installation called Money Tree made out of bills printed with portraits of famous European artists such as Picasso, who was associated with the movement of primitivism, or banknotes with portrayals of artists depicted as national heroes.

The focus on the unbreakable relation between money and politics

Within the game room in Tate gallery he mixed objects from Africa with the one’s from Europe.
Meschac Gaba – Bureau d’échange , 2014 – image via tanyabonakdargallery.com

The Earned Success

After realizing huge ongoing project titled The Museum of Contemporary African Art[2], which consisted out of twelve editions , his position as a notable and recognized contemporary artist was sealed. Even before that he participated in numerous exhibitions around the world and certainly among most important ones are Mirror’s Edge 1999-2001 at Documenta11, Netherlands pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and in 2006 the 9th Havana Biennial in Cuba. Interestingly, the line between private and professional art became crossed after Gaba married the Dutch curator Alexandra van Dongen during the exhibition For Real at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and was also documented as a performance. His practice seems to be the fine example of hard, well thought and precise work based as politically challenging observations and arguments.

Meschac Gaba lives and works in Rotterdam.

References:

  1. (2008): Meschac Gaba: Perruques voitures & Archéologie contemporaine, The archaeology of the future, Njami.S, In Situ Paris, 2008
  2. (2013): The art of Meschac Gaba: Making space, The Economist, 2013

Featured image: Portrait of Meschac Gaba within his work Museum of Contemporary African Art & More, at Kunsthalle Fridericianum – photo credit Essen Taste
All other images for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2016Afrika 010Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, NetherlandsSolo
2015-2016Making Africa, A Continent of Contemporary DesignGuggenheim Bilbao,Bilbao, SpainGroup
2015Salon StyleThe Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NYGroup
2015Making Africa: AContinent of Contemporary DesignVitra Design Museum,Weil am Rhein, GermanyGroup
2015Field, Road, Cloud: Art and AfricaDes Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA Atopolis, Manège de Sury, Mons, BelgiumGroup
2014n _ We Trust: Art and MoneyColumbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OhioGroup
2014Meschac Gaba: Exchange MarketTanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, USASolo
2014Citoyen du Monde, Socrates Sculpture Park Broadway BillboardLong Island City, New YorkSolo
2014Meschac Gaba: The Museum of Contemporary African ArtDeutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin, GermanySolo
2014How Far How NearStedelijk Musueum, Amsterdam, NetherlandGroup
2014The Invisible Hand: Curating as GestureThe 2nd CAFAM Biennale, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2014Between the linesTanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2014El Teatro del Mundo (The Theatre of the World), curated by Andrea TorreblancaMuseo Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo, Bosque de Chapultepec, MexicoGroup
2013Meschac Gaba: exposition personelleVieile Charite, Marseille, FranceSolo
2013Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997- 2002Tate Modern, London, EnglandSolo
2013Meschac Gaba: Le MondeStevenson, Cape Town, South AfricaSolo
2013Geestverwanten (Kindred Spirits)Rabo Art Collection, Utrecht, The NetherlandsGroup
2013Station to Station, public art project organized by Doug Aitken, traveling from train from New York CityNY to San Francisco, CAGroup
2012Perruques Voitures & Archéologie contemporainGalerie In Situ, Fabienne Leclerc, Paris, FranceSolo
2012Biennale Bénin 2012 – Inventing the Word: The Artist as CitizenCotonou, BeninGroup
2012When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes: A Restoration- A Remake - A Rejuvenation - A RebellionCCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, USA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, USAGroup
2012La Triennale 2012 – Intense ProximityPalais de Tokyo, Paris, FranceGroup
2011The Global Contemporary: Art worlds after 1989ZKM Center for Art and Media Technology Karlsruhe, GermanyGroup
2011Geography of SomewhereBrodie-Stevenson, Johannesburg, South AfricaGroup
2010Perruques-ArchitectureCeSAC Centro Sperimentale per le Arti Contemporanee, il Filatoio di Caraglio, Caraglio, ItalySolo
2010The Global Africa ProjectMuseum of Arts and Design, New York, USAGroup
2009Museum for Contemporary African Art & MoreMuseum de Paviljoens, Almere, The NetherlandsSolo
2009Esposizione UniversaleGAMeC, Bergamo, ItalyGroup
2007TressesMichael Stevenson, Cape Town, South AfricaSolo
2007Africa RemixJohannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South AfricaGroup
2006Défilé de perruques (wig parade, street performance)Paris, FranceSolo
2006Glue Me PeaceNobel Peace Center, Oslo, NorwaySolo
2006Respect! Formes de cohabitation: Peace MakerMusée Dar Si Saïd, Marrakech, MoroccoGroup
2005Meschac Gaba: TressesThe Studio Museum, Harlem, New York, USASolo
2005Trace of a Structure of Ideas: Archaeology of a Utopia in the HardauZurich, Switzerland: Embassy, competition project proposalGroup
2005Africa Remix: Boulangerie AfricaineCentre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FranceGroup
2004Peace MakerErnest G. Welch School of Arts & Design, Gallery of the Georgia State University, Atlanta, USASolo
2004Contemporary Archeology: The Fiction of AuthenticityMiller Gallery of the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USAGroup
2003Democracy Game, Exhibition of Exhibitions, curated by Jens HoffmannCasey Kaplan Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2002Le Salon du Musée – Museum of Contemporary African ArtPalais de Tokyo, Paris, FranceSolo
2002Library of the MuseumMuseum Shop and Humanist Space, documenta 11, Kassel, GermanyGroup
2001Democracy GameHelsinki, FinlandGroup
2000Meschac Gaba: Salle de Jeux – Museum of Contemporary African ArtS.M.A.K. (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst) Gent, BelgiumSolo
2000Spielregeln - Rules of the GameGalerie Gebauer, Berlin, GermanySolo
2000Continental Shift. A voyage between culturesLe Discothèque du Musée – Museum of Contemporary African Art, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, The NetherlandsGroup
2000The sky is the limit, Meschac Gaba Made in TaiwanFine Arts Museum, Taipei Biennale, TaiwanSolo
1999South Meets West: Museum Shop – Museum of Contemporary African ArtNational Museum of Ghana, AccraSolo
1998Architecture of the Museum – Museum of Contemporary African ArtGate Foundation, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1998Copy Culture. 40 Jaar Amsterdams Grafisch AtelierArti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
1997Bazar Bizar Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1997Virtual exhibition at africaserver.nlGroup
1996Open AteliersRijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
1995EwoleLomé, TogoSolo
1994Biennale d’Abidjan 1994Abidjan, Republic Côte d’IvoireGroup
1993Biennale de DakarGalerie Ife, Dakar, SenegalSolo
1993American Cultural CenterCotonou, BeninGroup
1992Arts sur 7. S.O.S. ArtistesHalle des Sports, Cotonou, BeninGroup
1991Meschac GabaCentre Culturel Français de Cotonou, BeninSolo