Meschac Gaba Game Room (detail) From Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997 – 2002

Meschac Gaba
Game Room (detail)
From Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997 – 2002
Installation at Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, 29 August – 15 November 2009
Photo: Nils Klinger © Meschac Gaba

The Game Room is a space not only for play, but also for contemplation. Beyond the bright colours and entertainment of the roulette wheel, sliding puzzle tables and chessboard, the work addresses questions of nationalism and governance.

The roulette wheel is made from a bicycle wheel attached to a board that is painted with several African flags radiating from the centre. Like Marcel Duchamp, Gaba appropriates found objects, confounding expectations and challenging us to recognise what we are seeing as art. The countries represented have each struggled with democracy but the way the flags are painted makes it almost impossible to discern which nations are being referred to. The combination of the unrecognisable flags and the roulette wheel implies uncertainty, speculation and gambling.

African flags also feature on six games tables. Visitors are invited to play with the sliding puzzles, reconfiguring the flags of Algeria, Angola, Chad, Morocco, Senegal and Seychelles. The flags, distorted from a rectangular to a square shape, are deconstructed and reconstructed as ordinary people take control. For Gaba this gesture reveals the complexity of democracy and the challenges of building autonomous and free nations.

The theme of risk-taking and power is also evident in the chessboard which has thirty-two large chess pieces. Half of them are covered with dollar bills, the other half with Euros. Chess, a game based on outwitting one’s opponents, becomes a metaphor for political and economic manoeuvres that affect us all.