Meschac Gaba’s practice explores a range of contemporary subjects, including urban architecture, systems of trade, transnational power dynamics and Africa’s place in the world. Through large-scale installations, processional performances and interactive projects, Gaba playfully addresses questions of representation through serious engagement with the politics of display and conventions of spectatorship.
For SB14, Gaba builds on his long-time fascination with cityscapes, architectural vernacular and urbanisation as a globalising process. In 2004, he began producing hand-braided wigs in the shape of New York skyscrapers, reflecting on the city’s density and vertical growth as well as the intricate work of African hair salons in Harlem. He has since created architectural wigs inspired by the buildings of major cities, including Paris, London, Cape Town, Chicago, Rotterdam and his hometown of Cotonou in Benin.
Gaba’s SB14 project, Perruques Architectures Émirats Arabes Unis (2019), takes the form of both a procession and an installation. As part of the biennial’s opening, the artist leads a group of performers, each wearing one of thirteen architectural wigs, through Sharjah’s Arts Square and the historic Souq Al Shanasiyah and Souq Saqr. After the premiere, the wigs will be displayed in two shop spaces in Bait Obaid Al Shamsi that face Souq Saqr. The works on view foreground Gaba’s extensive research, which involved visits to over thirty buildings and landmarks across five of the seven United Arab Emirates. Collectively, these architecture wigs and the structures they recall not only characterise the urban landscape in an aesthetic way but also highlight the significance of a range of civil society sectors, such as culture, education, religion, finance, government, leisure and domestic life. For Gaba personally, the process of creating the wigs enabled him to gain a better understanding of the UAE, its transformations and the gravitational pull the country exerts on many across the globe.