Meschac Gaba — Museum of Contemporary African Art/The Library

In 1997, Meschac Gaba (Benin, 1961) launched the first sketches of his Museum of Contemporary African Art. The Museum provides an alternative to the colonial context in which western museums display African art. So far, Gaba has installed several museum departments, amongst others a play-room (SMAK, Ghent, Belgium), a museum shop (Traffique, Ghent, Belgium), a restaurant (W139, Amsterdam), the museum architecture (Gate Foundation, Amsterdam) and an audio room (Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht).

In Witte de With, Gaba presented the seventh chapter (out of twelve) of his project: the Museum Library. The Library, whose collection of books stems from donations by museums, art institutions and galleries, covered an entire floor at Witte de With, and incorporated a children’s area, a curatorial section, and an interactive space.

The exhibition is accompanied by a monograph, entitled Library of the Museum: Museum of Contemporary African Art, published by Foundation Artimo with essays by, among others, Chris Dercon, Sebastian Lopéz and Anna Tilroe.

“This museum does not exist in reality. It is a concept, an idea that takes shape at some location and disappears again, or travels to another space, altered and is never the same again. Some spaces, like the Museum Restaurant, only existed once and will never be repeated. But who has visited a presentation of this museum, or has taken part of the event that this presentation always is, will never forget its strong physical impact. The body of the visitor is almost at every occasion involved, one way or the other.”
Bert Steevensz

“I believe that, above all, a museum is a place of study, of research. People look at the collection, ask themselves questions, and talk to each other about the pieces… My museum of contemporary African art has no walls. I want to show artists that you can show work everywhere, you can do it on your own. You don’t need four walls to determine your place, to decide who you are. Have the courage to decide for yourself who you are!”
Meschac Gaba

“The Museum for Contemporary African Art is a work of art in which the form, as content, opens itself outward. You ‘enter’ the ten rooms that …refer to aspects of life in Africa while at the same time, because they are located in the context of a museum, they are transformed into metaphors or into art, if you will. But it doesn’t stop there, since art for Gaba is not a goal in itself but a medium, a transparent presence, like a widely-shared idea. So his aim is to return these objects, charged with new significance, to the reality from which they come, as a process of recycling.”
Anna Tilroe

“Libraries are essential to 20th century museums. They are places for safekeeping, concentration, and for the dissemination of knowledge. Whether a sculpture or an installation, the raw material of Gaba’s Library is books on contemporary art: exhibition catalogues, curatorial books, art magazines and children’s books. The exhibition must be seen but its content demands to be read. Witte de With will function during this exhibition not unlike a library where the public will be invited not just to see, but also to use the exhibited books. The central notion of art and visuality will temporarily be transformed into legibility.”
Bartomeu Marí.

All citations are taken from the publication “Library of the Museum – Museum of Contemporary African Art.” (Artimo, 2001)