Inventer-le-monde :
l'artiste citoyen
"Bibliothèque pilote (Pilot Library)" and a performance with moto-taxis in Cotonou / MAVA (Meschac Gaba)

Friday 26 October 2012

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Meschac Gaba has developed a conceptual language to “think modern Africa”: “show through my work the time in which I live” [1]. His works are the product of a continuous dialogue with the art world and an active interrogation of its present transformations. Through his work, he speaks to us of cultural appropriation (Contemporary Archaeology, 2003), institutional critique (Musée d’art contemporain africain [Museum of Contemporary African Art], 1999-2009), commodification (Vanity, 1996; Lake of Wisdom, 2009) and politics (Diplomatique [Diplomatic], 2008; Actuels [Current Affairs], 2010).

For the Biennale Bénin, Gaba proposes two projects: Voyages (Travels) (2012), presented in the Kora space in the context of the international exhibition, and a new phase in the evolving project entitled MAVA - Musée de l’art de la vie active (Museum of the Art of Active Life) – entitled Bibliothèque pilote (Pilot Library). This anticipates the art installation, in the artist’s studio in Fidjrossè-Centre, composed of nearly three thousand volumes, artist catalogues, and art books - donations by art institutions to the Musée d’art contemporain africain (Museum of Contemporary African Art). The artist, who is campaigning for the opening of a contemporary art space in Cotonou, presents this library as a militant action that invites the public to take a look at global artistic production, while also reminding us of the meaning of the place in which this exhibition is seen. The creation of a Bibliothèque roulante (Traveling Library) is attached to the Bibliothèque pilote.

Excerpts of books are distributed in the city by moto-taxis. These circulate during the entire event along with license plates inscribed with slogans. This process, which borrows from both advertising and protest strategies, plays with the boundaries of the institutional framework while also promoting its main objective: to make Cotonou a Museum of the Art of Active Life. Public intervention is the way to interpolate the country’s authorities on economic capital. In December 2010, Gaba organized a procession in the city summoning up Marie Curie, Kwamé N’Krumah, Jesus Christ, Louis Pasteur, Karl Marx, Socrates, Guézo, Béhanzin…each one represented by braided signs: colored headdresses worn by thirty meandering models.

The artist has the habit of entering the urban fabric and calling upon a participatory public, in public places (Procession MAVA [MAVA Procession], Cotonou, 2010 and Basel, 2011) as in exhibition spaces (Peace Maker, New York, 2004 and Ginger Bar, Venice Biennale, 2003). In this sense, he takes an original stance with regards to the figure of the artist as citizen.

Francesca Cozzolino

An art historian who received her doctorate in social anthropology and who is a member of the anthropology of writing group at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), Francesca Cozzolino is Professor of Art History and Graphic Design at the Pyrenees School for the Fine Arts.


[1] Interview with Meschac Gaba, Rotterdam, July 12, 2012.

Translated from French by Isabelle Havet