Meschac Gaba and Tresses: a prayer for a troubled world

September 2008 -

Work by Beninese artist Meschac Gaba (1961) is currently on display in two venues in the Netherlands. The Arnhem Museum of Modern Art (until 21 September 2008) and the Lumen Travo Gallery in Amsterdam (until 5 October 2008) are showing pieces from the Tresses collection: 'a prayer for a troubled world'. Gaba, successful former participant of the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, is primarily known for his project Museum for Contemporary African Art and his artistic use of coins and bills.

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Work from the Tresses series by Meschac Gaba

Peace has become an important theme of his work in recent years. He was inspired by the skyscrapers during his working period with PS1 in New York in 2004. While walking through the city, the skyscrapers appeared to be on his head. Tresses are traditionally-braided wigs in the shape of iconic buildings throughout the world. Gaba later introduced the Beninese art of hair braiding and his soft peace message in Johannesburg, London, Milan and Paris, and now in Arnhem and Amsterdam.

Since he left the Rijksakademie, Gaba's curriculum vitae has grown into an impressive list of participation in biennials, residencies and expositions throughout the world. Yet Benin will always be his home, he says. "I am there every year for three months in the winter, so that I can work uninterrupted." He also finds his assistants there, like the braider who makes the wigs. This specific work takes two days each.

While the country is in an ambivalent economic situation, Gaba believes that the art world is on the move. "Artists are now free to do what they want", he says. Since 2006, the established Centre Culturel Français has no longer been the only venue to exhibit contemporary art in the country's economic capitol, Cotonou. The Zinsou Foundation is a private initiative established in 2005. It exhibits not only the established names but also less well-known Beninese artists. Artists are also exhibiting work in galleries that they have set up themselves. The city now boasts some three displays. Gaba: "It is good for Benin that these places exist. The Beninese need to start doing things themselves instead of leaving everything to the French."