Meschac Gaba created headdresses for Station to Station.
Meschac Gaba makes wigs. That is to say, he makes sculptures. Following completion of his epic multi-room, interactive installation, Museum of Contemporary African Art, the Beninese artist, who splits his time between Rotterdam and Benin, decided to turn to hair extensions. Since 2005, he has been producing a series of sculptures made of artificial hair he calls “Tresses.” In often electric colors, these works take the shape of iconic buildings, objects or symbols: a school bus, a cross, a hammer and sickle, or Pier Luigi Nervi’s Good Hope Centre in Cape Town. Oh, and they’re made to be worn atop one’s head.
In cities in Europe and the United States, hair braiding has become the classic small business for African immigrant women. Rendering often iconic forms from around the world in hair extensions, Gaba has created a body of work that is at once exuberant and tenuous, playful and poignant, monumental and shaky.
Starting in 1997, Gaba embarked on a five-year project to create a space for contemporary African art. The Museum of Contemporary African Art is Gaba’s “fight to make a space for African art.” The roving museum concluded at Documenta XI in Kassel, Germany and is now on display at the Tate Modern in London.
Comprised of a dozen separate rooms, the Museum features chicken wings, building blocks, a library and a Swiss bank, among other explorations of history that have omitted much of Africa’s contribution. Where there was once nothing, there is now a sprawling, interactive, collaborative and nomadic space that embodies the dynamism and impossibility of an entire continent’s worth of work. Built into the museum-within-a-museum is a critique of the fallibility of institutionalized art. As Gaba says of this work, “it is not a model… only a question.”