In this room Gaba responds to the West’s fascination with African belief systems and the tendency of Western museums to collect and exhibit objects created for ritual purposes while frequently ignoring contemporary art from Africa. Symbols of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and traditional African faiths are arranged on the shelves of a cross-shaped wooden structure. In amongst a statue of Buddha, a Jewish prayer shawl, wooden crosses and depictions of Ganesha there are ordinary objects like a padlock, plastic doll, diamante brooch and rear-view mirror. Through this arrangement Gaba seeks to challenge hierarchies between the world’s religions and show that even everyday items can have spiritual significance.
Christianity reached Beninin the seventeenth century. Today it is estimated that almost half the Beninese population consider themselves to be Christian, although most also practice animism. The coexistence of many faiths and the reality of syncreticism in Beninare clearly referenced in this installation with the arrangement of the objects emphasising the similarities between people rather than the differences. A narrow approach to religion is further destabilised by the occasional presence of a tarot card reader at the centre of the cross-shaped structure. Although most often associated with Christianity, the cross is a sacred symbol that dates back to the earliest stages of human development.
Art has long played an important role in the teaching and propagation of religion. Less frequently discussed is the relationship between religion and business. The arrangement of the objects in the Art and Religion Room deliberately recalls that of a market stall.
A tarot card reader will be present from 14.00–18.00 on 11 July, 25 July, 8 August, 22 August and 12 September 2013. Free readings will last 15 minutes each on a first-come first-served basis.