Visiting European museums in the late 1990s, Beninese artist Meschac Gaba couldn’t imagine how the art he wanted to create could be integrated into them. The Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997–2002 is his response.
The work is an immersive twelve-room installation – one section of which is displayed here – that questions the function of the museum and challenges preconceptions of African art. Gaba creates new spaces for sociability, study and play, in which the boundaries between everyday life and art, and between observation and participation, are blurred.
In 2000 Gaba was invited by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to participate in an exhibition of emerging artists. At the time the Dutch economy was thriving, progressive social legislation was being implemented, and immigration was not yet a polarising political issue. It was in this context that Gaba proposed his project to the Stedelijk Museum: to marry his fiancée in the gallery.
Ekué Woekedje Meschac Gaba legally married Antoinetta Georgina Alexandra van Dongen at the Stedelijk Museum in October 2000 in the exhibition For Real. Video and photographic documentation of the wedding ceremony, the marriage certificate, wedding dress and shoes, guest book and gifts all form part of the Marriage Room.
The artist’s biography is evident in many areas of the Museum of Contemporary African Art, but nowhere more powerfully than here. Many of the gifts refer to the couple’s backgrounds: the bride as a Dutch curator of pre-industrial design and the groom as a Beninese artist.