ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Boundary Matters. The Concept of Art in Modernity

Jesus, Jeanne d’Arc and Fela Kuti – Meschac Gaba’s other Story


Gaba, Meschac »Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active«. Performance in Karlsruhe, Germany, Sept. 2011. Video, 5:35 min. © ZKM

The traces of history, dead and a little dusty, begin to collect in the museum. Not so, however, in Meschac Gabas Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active (2010/2011). Frauke Schnoor was present as the Beninese artist had the icons of African and European history walk through Karlsruhe side by side.

A living museum, a moving museum: it posed in front of the city’s castle, circled around the pyramids, strolled through the shopping area and held up the traffic. “On ne reste pas”, we do not pause, said Meschac Gaba in a tone of decisiveness and marched in front of the wig parade of the Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active resembling a general. Fela Kuti, the famous Nigerian Afrobeat musician, walks past me in a saxophone formed orange wig; a little shaky on his legs, he is followed by a traffic light the nameplate of which reveals that it represents Garrett Morgan – that Afro-American inventor who patented the automatic traffic lights in 1922. What is the colourful wig with the Teletubby sensor, I asked Gaba. Pericles, he said. Pericles was an Athenian statesman in the classical era and is Gaba‘s representative for democracy. He was unable to find a universal sign for democracy, he explains, which is why he developed one himself.

“Perhaps they are collecting for Rwanda” speculates a passer-by in a thick Baden accent, somewhat irritated by the African caravan, which rather suddenly and quietly saunters through her Baden-Württembergian daily routine. The passers-by stand in café entrances, approach the Schlosspark, and follow the parade almost hovering on the rollers of their Sagways. “Allow me to explain a little about the symbols” said Gaba, frowning. “From 1974 to 1990, we had a communist system in Benin, so Karl Marx and socialist ideology was part of my childhood. Abraham Lincoln is part of the installation, because we discussed him and the abolishment of slavery at school.” Each one of the artistically woven artificial hair figures is a symbol of a moment, in which his biography meets the history of the world. The Musée de l’Art de la Vie Active carries this history out of the museum and onto the street. But it is the oppressive heaviness of the wigs with an upright walk which becomes hard work for the participants. The weight of the world does not rest on their shoulders as they were accustomed. Today they are part of another tradition. When Gaba addresses the question of the wigs, he laughs: “In Cotonou, my home town, people say: everything that one is able to carry on one’s head is not heavy. This tradition is part of my work. If people here find the weight tiring, then this is, I think, something psychological.”


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