Meschac Gaba: Le Monde

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MESCHAC GABA LE MONDE Texts by the artist

6 JUNE – 20 JULY 2013


ENSEMBLE I started thinking about this work when I was invited to participate in We Face Forward, a survey exhibition of art from West Africa and the Diaspora, in Manchester in 2012. I didn’t know what I was going to say about West Africa or its cultural development. All that came to mind was to complete the original phrase by Kwame Nkrumah, the leader and liberator of Ghana – ‘We Face Forward Towards Development’ – and to ask myself some questions: what do we face, and how? As an answer to this I fused the flags of all the West African countries together with the flag of the United Kingdom, so that it became a symbol of unity, of solidarity and friendship; a proposal that, even though there are dramas and problems between us, we can meet in unity and solidarity. In my new flag, each flag is elongated into a triangle, a symbol of trinity and unity.

Ensemble 2012 Inkjet print on synthetic canvas 140 x 240cm Edition of 3 + 1AP

Ensemble, 2012, installation view, We Face Forward, Manchester Art Gallery Photo: Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon,


CITOYEN DU MONDE Made for the 2012 Benin Biennale This work evolved out of the composite flag Ensemble. The optical spectacle created by elongating each individual flag into a narrow triangle, converging on a central point, inspired me to create a world flag that is a composite of all countries’ flags and again is symbolic of a togetherness that can resolve the difficulties and crises that proliferate across our world. The singularity of each flag is lost in the rhythm of the composition, as is the case with countries in the age of globalisation where the national is absorbed into the international. The idealism and humour of these two huge flags, Ensemble and Citoyen du Monde, infuse a playfulness into our perceptions of the world – in turn, making the world a better place for us all.

Citoyen du Monde 2012 Inkjet print on synthetic canvas 300 x 500cm Edition of 3 + 1AP


Globalloon 2013 Commercial inkjet ink on nylon 500cm diameter Edition of 3 + 1AP Installation view, Art Basel Unlimited, June 2013


VOYAGES Made for the 2012 Benin Biennale For Voyages, I wrapped flags into bundles, tied each bundle to a wooden cane, and laid these out on the wooden pallets that I often use in installations. The flags, all made by women dressmakers from Cotonou, are from countries and confederations that have worldwide influence: the European Union, United States, African Union, Vatican, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), China, United Kingdom, United Nations, Arabic League, Israel, Brazil and Tibet. The wooden canes can be seen as pilgrims’ sticks or as the defensive weapons of nomadic pastors which metaphorically signify the defensive object of the contemporary traveller: the passport. Voyages, 2012, installation view, Benin Biennale

Voyages 2012 UN, Brazil, League of Arab States, China, Nato, Vatican, AU, UK, USA, EU, Tibetan and Israeli flags, wooden pallets, wooden sticks Dimensions variable


Installation view of Le Monde with Citoyen du Monde, Voyages and Ensemble, 2013


MUSÉE DE L’ART DE LA VIE ACTIVE Dear curators, artist-writers, art journalists,

Chers curateurs, artistes écrivains, journalistes d’art,

art critics,

critiques d’art,

MAVA, short for Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active, is a recent

MAVA, le Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active, est un project

art project that I initiated in December 2010 in Cotonou,

qui a commencé en décembre 2010 à Cotonou, Benin,

Benin, as a performance and exhibition across the city

comme une performance et exposition à travers la ville

of Cotonou. I declared the city of Cotonou as Musée de

de Cotonou, étant consacré pour la circonstance comme

l’Art de la Vie Active. MAVA in the Benin Mina language

un Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active. MAVA dans la langue

means ‘Come On!’ MAVA was launched as a performance

Mina veut dire ‘Je viens? Viens!’. MAVA a commencé par

with a parade of braided wigs in the form of historic icons,

une parade de perruques en forme d’icônes historiques,

reflecting historic, political, cultural and economic points of

reflétant des attractions historiques, politiques, culturelles

attention in history. MAVA also represents a development

et economiques. MAVA répresente un projet de

project for the city of Cotonou in particular, and for Benin in

développement pour la ville de Cotonou en particulier et

general. During the presentation of the project to the press

pour tout le Benin en général. Au cours de la présentation

Musee de l'Art de la Vie Active 2010/11 Stills from video of performance, Cotonou, Benin

Musee de l'Art de la Vie Active 2010/11 Banner from performance, Cotonou, Benin 53 x 150cm


and media in 2010, I also announced the development of an

du project à la presse et aux medias in 2010, nous avons

international MAVA art residency project. The principal goal

initié de développer aussi une MAVA artistes résidence

and mission of MAVA is to participate in the development of

internationale. Le principal but de ce projet est de participer

contemporary art and art education in Benin.

au développement et l’education artistique sur l’art

The upcoming ‘MAVA Library Residency’ will start in January/February 2013, but will be launched as ‘MAVA

contemporain au Bénin. Le MAVA Bibliothèque Résidence est un projet

Bibliothèque Pilot’ as part of the Benin Biennale opening

qui va commencer en janvier/février 2013, mais va

8 November 2012 in Cotonou. This will inaugurate the first

commencer comme MAVA Bibliothèque Pilote dans le

contemporary art library in West Africa. The library collection

cadre de la Biennale Benin le 8 novembre 2012 à Cotonou.

will consist of art books coming from my ‘Library’ which was

Ce sera la prémière bibliothèque d’art contemporain en

part of my Museum of Contemporary African Art, which

Afrique de l’Ouest. Ce sont des livres d’art du Musée d’Art

began at Witte de With in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in

Contemporain Africain qui commence à Witte de With

2000, with a collection of art books coming from many

Rotterdam en 2000 avec le collecte de livres d’art chez

different artists, curators and museums. This library was

des artistes, curateurs et musées, et aussi a été montré à

shown in Kassel during Documenta 11, where the collection

Kassel Dokumenta 11, ou la collection a augmenté avec des

increased with art books donated by participating artists and

livres d’art des artistes du Dokumenta 11 et autres en 2002.

others, in 2002. Now 10 years later, the library collection has

Maintenant le collection de livres a été augmenté par le

been increased again by the gift of art books donated by the

don de livres d’art du Centre Pompidou et la Bibliothèque

Centre Pompidou and the Bibliothèque Kandinsky in Paris.

Kandinsky à Paris. C’est cela qui fais la Bibliothèque

These are the collections that have built up the MAVA art

d’Art MAVA pour le résidence. Il y aura 5 à 6 artistes

library so far. For the upcoming ‘MAVA Library Residency’ in

internationaux invités y compris des artistes Beninois et

the beginning of 2013 there will be 5-6 invited international

Africains pour travailler ensemble à Cotonou durant une

artists including artists from Benin and West Africa working

mois sur le thème ‘bibliothèque’.

together in Cotonou for a month on the theme of ‘library’. In the context of the second edition of the MAVA project

Dans le cadre de la second édition du projet MAVA, le Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active, qui développer le projet

presenting its contemporary art library I will organize a

de la bibliothèque d’art contemporain à Cotonou, Benin,

performance called Bibliothèque Roulante (Moving Library).

cette bibliothèque qui va normalement s’inaugurée

To realize this performance we will need a collection of short

avec la résidence MAVA entre janvier-février 2013. Cette

quotations and phrases about contemporary art written/

bibliothèque se présentera comme MAVA Bibliothèque

published by curators, artist writers, museum directors,

Pilote dans la Biennale Benin qui commencera [continues on p18]

Musee de l'Art de la Vie Active: Bibliothèque Roulante 2012 Detail


Musee de l'Art de la Vie Active: Bibliothèque Roulante 2012 65 licence plates, digital video, motorbike Installation dimensions variable


art journalists and art critics. This is the reason why I am

8 novembre 2012 au janvier 2013 au cours de la Biennale.

contacting you now. I would like to ask you to send me a

Il y aura une performance appele Bibliothèque Roulante.

short quotation or phrase once published by yourself. These

Pour réaliser cette performance nous aurons besoin

quotations will be presented on the licence plates of a large

de phrases de citations de curateurs, artistes écrivains,

number of motorbike taxi drivers in Cotonou, replacing their

journalistes d’art, et critiques d’art. C’est pour cela que

licence registration numbers. The quotations can have a

je vous contacte pour vous demander de me donner

maximum length of 5-10 words, but can even be 3 or 4 words.

une phrase, une citation venant de vous. Des phrases ou

Also I will need the complete reference of the quotations,

citations seront écrire dur des plaques de taxi motos à

where you have published it before, such as exhibition

la place des numéros. Cette phrase ou citation peut-être

catalogues, artists books, articles, newspapers, together with

de 5 à 10 mots aux maximum, mais cela peut-être aussi

your name or initials, which will be mentioned in the licence

4 ou 3 mots, mais je veux avoir la réference complète du

plates of the taxi drivers as well. The quotations will need to

phrase, du catalogue d’art, journal d’art ou autres, et aussi

be in English or French. The taxi drivers will drive around with

votre nom ou initiales qui sera mentionner au dessous des

these licence plates containing quotations about art during

textes sur les plaques. La phrase ou le citation doit être en

the whole period of the Benin Biennale. Eventually these

Anglais ou en Francais. Les taxi-motos vont rouler avec les

licence plates will be rented from these taxi drivers for the

plaques avec les citations ou phrases artistiques durant

whole duration of the biennale for a modest payment. It is the

toute la periode de la Biennale Benin, éventuellement ces

idea to make the city community of Cotonou participate in

plaques sont louer chez les taxi motos durant la période

contemporary art, because the taxi drivers with their plates

de la Biennale pour une somme modeste. C’est une idée

will also talk about the project and about the biennale, so

de faire participer la communauté à l’art contemporain,

it becomes a form of mobile communication; it is also the

car ces taxi-motos qui auront ces plaques sur leurs motos

idea to bring art to a city public who normally do not read

vont aussi parler du projet et aussi de la Biennale. C’est de

exhibition catalogues or art books. This could also stimulate

la communication véhiculer. C’est aussi une idée d’amener

people to visit the MAVA art library as well as the biennale.

l’art à un public qui ne lie pas normalement les catalogues

It is a mobile library. After the Benin Biennale these licence

de l’art ou livres d’art. Cela peut amener le public à

plates with their quotations that were driven around by the

visiter la Bibliothèque MAVA et aussi la Biennale. C’est

taxi motor bikes will be exhibited somewhere in another form.

une bibliothèque ambulante. Après la Biennale Benin les

I would like to ask you to send my request also to other people who you think might be interested to participate with a phrase on contemporary art for my Bibliothèque Roulante in Cotonou, Benin.

une autre forme. Je vous démanderai de l’envoyer aussi à d’autres personnes que vous pensez peut-être interessé. Cordialement,

Kind regards, Meschac Gaba

plaques avec les phrases vont être montrer sous

September 2012

Meschac Gaba

Septembre 2012

Musee de l'Art de la Vie Active: Bibliothèque Roulante Stills from video


LE MONDE EN MINIATURE ET LA MODE EN MINIATURE I conceived Le Monde en Miniature et la Mode en Miniature for a group exhibition curated by Claudia Banz – the exhibition did not materialise but I made the work nonetheless. The installation takes the form of a shop display of babies’ and children’s clothes, all made in Cotonou, Benin, and displayed on painted dummies, also from Cotonou. There are also some child mannequins dressed in combat clothes like playful child soldiers. At first glance, the installation appears childlike, the fashions sweet, but a closer look reveals that the embroidered texts on the colourful clothes are words and phrases that are violent, disturbing and disconcerting, a quiet reminder of phenomena in our society that turn children into vulnerable victims. The context of a shop-like space is also a thread running through my work where I play with ideas of cultural exchange and value.

Le Monde en Miniature et la Mode en Miniature 2008 Cardboard figures, mannequins, children’s clothing Installation dimensions variable


BIOGRAPHY Meschac Gaba was born in 1961 in Cotonou, Benin. He studied at the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 1996-97 and currently lives and works between Cotonou and Rotterdam. His work was included in Documenta 11 in 2002 and the Liverpool Biennial in 2010, and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Museum de Paviljoens, Almere; the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel; the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas; and the Nobel Peace Center, Oslo. In July to September 2013 Tate Modern, London, presents Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art (1997–2002), an immersive 12-room installation which fuses art and daily life, questioning the nature of the museum and perceptions of African art. Constructed over a five-year period, it invites visitors to see and interact with a

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 403 1055/1908 F +27 (0)86 275 1918

vast array of objects and environments. This exhibition is the first time the Museum has been shown in its entirety in the UK and also marks Tate’s acquisition of the work.

Catalogue 73 July 2013 © 2013 for works & texts by Meschac Gaba: the artist Front cover Citoyen du Monde, 2012 (detail) Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini, Kabelo Malatsie Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

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