The world of contemporary African art is complex with its numerous definitions, derived over the years from a variety of publications, museums and institutions alike. Utilising various mediums, from sculpture to oil painting, contemporary African artists are as distinguishable as night and day, with each possessing a unique gift for interpreting the world that surrounds them. Fans of African art, including Tunde Folawiyo, may be fascinated by the work of artist Meschac Gaba, who with his exhibit at Tate Modern, has revolutionised the way museums display works of contemporary African art.
Born in Benin in 1961, the year after the country gained its independence from France, Meschac Gaba is married to a Dutch curator and thus, spends half the year in Rotterdam with the other half spent in his native Benin. It was here that he began creating art, using his everyday life as inspiration. After using decommissioned bank notes to portray a theme of money and politics, his work was acclaimed both locally and abroad, skyrocketing his popularity among art fans throughout the world. He was invited to showcase his works in neighbouring African countries and at the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie in Paris in 1992. Hoping to break free of preconceived notions of the scope of African art, Gaba went on study art in Amsterdam.
As his art progressed, Gaba became frustrated by the lack of gallery space available for the conceptual art he and other artists alike were creating at the time. It was during his second year at the Rijksakademie that Gaba first had the idea of his now famous “Museum” exhibit. An epic five-year project, “Museum” was constructed from 1997 to 2002 and showcases 12 rooms, each containing what Gaba deems his version of contemporary African art. Whilst one room may contain ceramic chicken legs, another showcases the tale of his wedding day, creating a striking and rather amusing balance that draws in audiences with its provocative nature. Gaba refers to the museum as his “fight to make a space for African art”. Housed at London’s Tate Modern, the exhibit is amongst one of the most unconventional demonstrations of contemporary African art, a testament not only to Gaba’s power as a leading African artist, but to the varying scope of contemporary African art in existence today. With his cultural impact ever present, Meschac Gaba continues to inspire millions of art fans throughout the world, including Tunde Folawiyo and countless others with a passion for native African culture.