Born in Cotonou (1961) and living since 1996 between the Netherlands and Benin, Meschac Gaba
has developed a conceptual language to describe the present and question, through his work,
the societal mutations produced by the advent of globalization. The artist, in the conception
of his installations, takes hold of objects from daily life, most often belonging to a local
cultural tradition (as is the case of traditional French baguettes2) and turns them into matter
for creation to focus on current themes. Through his work, he speaks to us about cultural
appropriations (“Musée d’art contemporain africain,” 1990-2009; “Contemporary Archaeology,”
2003 ), the condition of global man (“Citoyen du monde,” 2012; “Globallonn,” 2013), economic
issues (“Vanity,” 1996; “Lake of Wisdom,” 2009), or political ones (“Actuels,” 2010).
He thus builds his plastic language through the use of objects that, in going from one cultural
context to another, retain very little of their local specificity, and should lead us to
thinking about a global culture, while showing the effects of hybridization and syncretism
that cross globalization. This is the case, for example, of the braids that are found in his
wig-sculptures (“Tresses,” 2005), used for hairdos in Africa but also in Harlem (New York)
as well as in the Goutte d’or (Paris). In his approach, the question is not only to extract
the objects from their context and basic use but to take them out of their “local function”
to invest a global meaning. Consequently, the braids are not just a reference to Africa but
objects redeveloped by the current market, materials of contemporary creation and signs of a
His career has been strongly influenced by his many trips between Africa and Europe that have
led him to travel geographically as well as conceptually between the world’s different lands
and cultures. Consequently alternating a reflexive attitude and one of otherness, through his
work he casts a critical glance on contemporary Africa and more generally on the world that
surrounds us. Finding the stereotypical visions of Africa amusing as well as how the Western
art market views African artists – when in the 1980s he moved away from the Paris-New York geographic
axis alone – he asserts a global and resolutely modern vision of Africa.
1 See: Cozzolino Francesca, “Documenter le présent. Meschac Gaba, troubadour de l’Afrique contemporaine ,” La semaine, published
in the framework of the exhibition “Meschac Gaba. Pérégrination(s),” FRAC, PACA, Vieille Charité, Marseille, October
2 Boulangerie Africaine (2004) is a video that shows the production of baguettes in a bakery in Benin. The baguettes are then
exhibited in the windows. This “putting under glass” of products from French culinary culture plays with the status of these
objects that the artist exhibits as in the museum. The daily production of bread is laden with a historical and cultural narrative.
The baguettes has become a product that is completely integrated in the food culture of Benin despite the fact that
Benin does not produce wheat. Bread then takes on the status of a vestige of colonialism.
Extract from the Financial speculations and cultural traffic. When art awakens us to the condition of the global world,2017