Tate Modern is presenting an exhibition by Meschac Gaba (b.1961, Benin), titled Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997–2002. It consists of an immersive twelve-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 vast array of objects and environments. This free exhibition will be the first time it has been shown in its entirety in the UK. The show also marks Tate’s acquisition of the work, part gifted to Tate by the artist and part purchased through the Acquisitions Fund for African Art supported by Guaranty Trust Bank plc.
Gaba began working on the Museum of Contemporary African Art in 1997 during a residency in Amsterdam because he felt there was no space in Europe for the type of work he wished to make. In this work, he imagines what such a place might be like and in doing so he explores related issues of cultural exchange and value. The resulting twelve rooms constitute a ‘museum within a museum’, combining the aesthetics of the art gallery with that of a West African market place. Several of these rooms represent familiar parts of the institution – including the shop, restaurant and library – while others offer alternative spaces for reflection, research and play, such as a salon, game room and music room.
Visitors are invited to interact directly with many aspects of the work. The Library will contain books to read, tarot-reading will take place in the Art and Religion room, and the Museum Restaurant, located outside the Starr Auditorium on Level 1, will host a series of evening meals cooked by invited artists throughout the summer. As the work developed over several years, Gaba also incorporated expressions of his own biography, including a Marriage Room containing photos, gifts and his wife’s wedding dress from their marriage ceremony at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Library also contains an audio work in which the artist imagines what his late father might say about his son’s life. This combination of personal and institutional critique, interactive and reflective spaces, specially-created and ready-made objects creates a unique world for visitors to explore.
Meschac Gaba was born in 1961 in Cotonou, Benin. He studied at the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 1996-7 and currently lives and works between Contonou 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.
Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary African Art is curated by Kerryn Greenberg, Curator of International Art, Tate Modern. The artist will be in conversation with Chris Dercon, Director, Tate Modern, on Wednesday 3 July 2013. A new book about the work, produced by Tate Publishing, will also be available later in the summer.