During my research on events for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was delighted to find Meschac Gaba Museum of Contemporary African Art was on show at Deustch Bank KunstHalle. Deustch Bank KunstHalle is located in one of Deustch bank’s building in Unter den Linden which can easily be reached via Franzosische Str U Bahn station. Enroute we passed the monumental Konzerthaus Berlin.
KunstHalle aims to provide a platform for contemporary art in berlin, by providing access to art and fostering creativity. It presents 4 major exhibition each year focusing on its art collection and collaborative projects with international cultural institutions such as The Tate modern and independent curators. In addition to the exhibitions, KunstHalle also offer talks, lectures and other events to introduce and explain contemporary art. KunstHalle is a fairly new establishment which opened its doors in April 2013.
In our post on Contemporary African Art in Paris, we touched on the growth of Contemporary African Art and the Tate modern’s acquisition of Meschac Gaba contemporary African art museum in 2012, which is one of the Tate’s largest installation acquisition to date. So we were excited to see this acquisition and to catch the exhibition in its last week in Berlin.
On arrival, we paid the 4euros entry fee per person. Entry is free on Mondays. We were greeted with a sack cloth flag with the inscriptions of Museum of Contemporary African Art Berlin, which was created specially for the exhibition. To the left was an introduction to Meschac Gaba Museum of Contemporary African art.
The Museum of Contemporary african art has no permanent home. The installation is moved to different venues periodically. It was at the Tate Modern in London last year. In the words of Meschac GABA “My museum has no walls” it is, not a model… It’s only a question”
As we navigated through the installation space, the objects, books, curated stylisation provoked questions on the definition of contemporary african art, the perception of African art in the west, the history of African art and it’s trajectory from primitive African art to contemporary African art.
The installation space consisted of four main themes. On entry, the first room encountered was the draft room, which was the first room Meschac Gaba create. At this point, the only question that arose in my mind was the symbolism of the banknotes from different west african countries. I later discovered that the inclusion of decommissioned currencies in Meschac’s work was inspired by the devaluation of the Benin Communaute Financiere Africaine currency in the 90s.
According to KunstHalle, for Mescha the displays in the draft room, which also contained a freezer with discounted chicken, a try with chicken feet and decommissioned bank notes was an allusion to the overabundance of the western economy.
Next was the architecture room, where visitors are encourage to design their own museum. Here is one I designed.
A money tree (not the actual name given) and a stylised ladder were also on display.
A few steps ahead was the art and religion room, which really got my attention, as I was interested in the depiction of art, spirituality and religion in West Africa. The structure was adorned with different coloured candles and contained various religious, spiritual and everyday objects. This got me thinking of the coexistence of the different religions in west African countries and how most of them tend to exist in harmony.
The art and religion room was a thought provoking installation. It brought together two different worlds which may not be necessarily consumed together by people in their everyday life’s and as they go about their religious practices. It also brought to the forefront of my mind, objects used in ritual practices and some traditional rituals carried out in some parts of African in the name of Christianity. According to the Tate, this room mimics contemporary Benin, where Gaba explains most people are poly-religious: ‘Catholics brought Christianity, but for my ancestors Catholicism and Voodoo are not different”.
Some Objects from the Art and Religion Room
With a little hesitation I proceeded to the library room. On entry, I looked to my right and saw a coffin and wondered what a coffin was doing in the library.
I was fascinated and proceeded to sit on the coffin and noticed the headphones, which I placed over my ears and started listening to a narration of Mescha’s life in the words of his father. Meschac was an average student and was only interested in drawing. At the Catholic school he attended, all he did was draw during bible studies and in his reading books. The narrator goes on to talk about how Meschac’s dad not support his son in his artistic pursuit, as being an artist was a risky business, but Meschac’s mother supported and encouraged him to pursue his art on the condition he could support himself. It was only when Meschac started wining international competitions, that his father believed Meschac was talented and started supporting him. In 1997, Meschac eventually moved to The Netherlands to develop his artistic abilities. Meschac’s father passed away in 1999 and never got to see Mescha’s artistic accomplishments.
My intention was to speed through the library room, but I was intrigued by the different book titles and topics on contemporary African art from different parts of the continent. How traditional practices and beliefs, cultures, ceremonial activities are documented and images captured from an artistic viewpoint. Below are some titles that were on display.
The library also continued to the 2nd floor which had the capacity to hold 12 people at a time. In line with the harmonious religious theme in the art and religion room, a Bible and Quran were placed on a reading table.
The library was my favourite part of the installation, as it provided a one stop shop to access information on Africa from an artistic perspective. It also provided westerners with a glimpse into the innings of Africa, it’s diverse culture and rich source of artistic inspiration. Africa is not just a source of natural resources, but also a continent of talent, creative exploration and artistic development.
I proceeded to the museum shop were you could purchase works of other artists Meschac had worked with, which I thought was limited. I would have loved to see more works of other contemporary African artists. The shop was curated to look like a market in West Africa where both high end and affordable goods are displayed side by side.
I wanted to find out what other visitors thought about the exhibition. I approached a German gentleman who was also an artist and quizzed him on what he thought about the exhibition. His favourite piece was the ladder in the architecture room showing how the project had developed over the years, with inscriptions on Plexiglas rung of the different locations and museums that the installation has be housed.
I asked the visitor for his view on the art and religion room and he said he did not believe art and religion went together. He felt the Library room was too cliché and common. I told him how I felt about the library room and how the books might provide a glimpse into Africa and it’s art.
I enjoyed my visit to KunstHalle and the works of Mescha Gaba and look forward to seeing more contemporary African art in the mainstream and in more cultural institutions globally. The idea of having a mobile museum will hopefully bring more awareness to Contemporary African Art. Where’s the next destination for this installation I wonder?