Meschac Gaba

The Street

1 October - 21 November 2009

Michael Stevenson is pleased to announce a solo exhibition by Meschac Gaba. Based in Cotonou and Rotterdam, Gaba first showed at the gallery in 2007, presenting Tresses, a series of sculptures woven from artificial hair in the shape of iconic South African buildings; the show travelled to Johannesburg Art Gallery.

In The Street, Gaba presents a new series of Tresses, this time in the shape of cars - works including Mercedes, Citroën DS, Studebaker, Jeep, Fire Truck, School Bus, Tractor, Tank, Smart, Picasso and Beetle. Like the skyscrapers which inspired Gaba's first series of Tresses while on a residency in New York City, cars are potent symbols of progress in the modern era, embodying technological achievement and prosperity. In the current global economic and environmental crisis, however, in which the bankruptcy of General Motors epitomises the end of an era and an uncertain future, these signs are radically destabilised, if no less powerfully associative.

Translated into wearable sculptures - and, in an accompanying video, paraded through the streets of Cotonou, where the Tresses were made - the car is both elevated and brought back down to earth. Gaba playfully redirects attention to the economy as experienced at street level, in the market place of an African city, a prototypical arena for human trade. In presenting a tank as a pink wig, Gaba neutralises its symbolic threat of military might - yet the wig's synthetic fibres, derived from petrochemicals, give an underlying sting to his critique.

The entrance gallery is transformed into a market inspired by Benin's culture of street trading, an extension of Gaba's Colours of Cotonou project. The central element of the installation is a collection of picture frames covered in cut-outs from Beninese bank notes ('cadre' in French meaning both 'frame' and 'political boss' with its attendant hint of corruption). These enclose found 'colours', whether pieces of textiles or simply the floor or wall behind an empty frame, drawing our gaze again to the fabric of everyday life. Found objects, including a display rack for nail polish bottles found on a market in Benin, complete the environment.

Born in 1961 in Cotonou, Benin, Gaba has a major retrospective exhibition which opened at the Museum de Paviljoens in Almere, the Netherlands, and travelled to the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, from August to November 2009. This exhibition brings together all the rooms of Gaba's Museum of Contemporary African Art for the first time; this major work was inaugurated at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 1997, and has been installed room by room at venues including Witte de With, Rotterdam (2001), Documenta11 (2002) and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2002). Other solo shows have taken place at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo (2006) and Tate Modern, London (2005). Gaba was included on the international touring exhibition Africa Remix (2004-2007), and in 2006 took part in the São Paolo, Gwangju, Sydney and Havana biennales.

Gaba exhibits concurrently with Paul Edmunds and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

The exhibition opens on Thursday 1 October, 6-8pm. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.

This exhibition was realised with the support of the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam.