maandag 6 oktober 2014

Meschac Gaba - Contempary Global Art

In 1996, African artist Meschac Gaba (1961) came to the Netherlands to study art at the post-graduate program at the prestige Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. It was his first visit to Europe and during his stay he visited a museum of contemporary art, probably the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Wandering through the halls, Gaba wondered where the contemporary African art was. Did they hide it somewhere? Later, he visited the Tropenmuseum, an ethnographic museum in Amsterdam, and there he found some. Not much, but some. 

Being from Amsterdam myself, I felt ashamed. His story shows that even in what I thought to be an open-minded country, in the nineties (only twenty years ago!) the reality still was this elite point of view that contemporary art is a) western (whatever this still means)  b) mainly white and c) predominantly male. 

Gaba transformed his experiences into the ongoing project the Museum of Contemporary African Art. It is not so much a commentary on the western exhibiting practice but more like a display window. It consists of 'rooms' without walls that each exhibit an idea. 

The rooms, now twelve in total, are linked to spaces generally found in museums, like the library, the restaurant and the museum shop. Gaba uses the function of the rooms to pose questions related to their purpose and expose different points of view. For example the Museum Shop, in which Gaba sells the one thing the shop has got to get, it's raison d'être; money.

Gaba presents the strange relation between art and money in multiple rooms. For example the work Artist Bank, where Gaba shows a collection of banknotes who have cultural figures like artists or writers on them. Or the work Money Tree, which contains banknotes with on them pictures of artists who claim to have been inspired by African Art (by which they meant African 'religious' art) like Picasso, Brancusi and Giacometti.

This focus on the old instead of the new can also be seen in the Art and Religion Room, a more philosophical room, in which Gaba presents objects from different religions. Maria candles meet menorah's, a prayer mat and a voodoo doll sit happely next to one another. This is the cateory where religious African art belongs. Gaba points to the Western focus on the latter whiles totally ignoring the contemporary art of the continent.

Gaba's Museum of Contemporary African Art is a twelve room installation which represents ideas about the identity, function and core-business of a museum (for contemporary art). In the installation Gaba also solves the in former times often absent exhibition space for his work. If not available, built your own.

At the moment, the Museum of Contemporay African Art is on tour. The exhibition just left the Tate Modern and is now on show in Berlin in the art space of the biggest bank (!) in Germany: Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle.

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