STEVENSON is delighted to announce Tropical Garden, Meschac Gaba’s first solo exhibition in Johannesburg, his fifth with the gallery.
Returning to painting for the first time since the 1990s, Gaba presents a series of new works on canvas, set among potted palms installed within the gallery. Inspired by time spent in the garden surrounding his house in the city of Cotonou in Benin, Gaba’s paintings reveal the negative shapes of leaves taken from his various plants. These works exist as an index not only of the garden itself – and here we think of Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, and his observation that “the garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world” - but also of the daily meditations undertaken by the artist in a space for rest and reflection, in which he contemplates the boundaries of personal and public space and the anxieties that arise when these spaces meet.
The potted palms, with their implicit message of colonial expansionism and domesticated otherness, introduce a ‘foreign nature’ to the white cube of the gallery, offering reflection on how we attempt to affix meaning to objects and artworks in context, and how this sense of certainty – or lack thereof – impacts upon us. With this spatial intervention, Gaba joins a lineage of artists that includes Helio Oiticica and Marcel Broodthaers who have similarly incorporated natural life into their practice as signifiers of non-human creative force, and as expressions of the struggle for power of culture over nature. As with these historical precedents, Gaba creates a space where reflection and a playfulness become one, a space to contemplate and question our own assumptions of human, artistic or political control.
Alongside the paintings Gaba presents Citoyen d’Afrique, a new large-scale piece that combines the national flags of the 55 member countries of the African Union. The motif of the flag has been used by Gaba throughout his practice as a means of critiquing globalisation and national solidarity while also suggesting a poetic resolution of these tensions. As each singular image meets at a central vanishing point, the individual flags give way to the overall composition and Citoyen d’Afrique becomes, paradoxically, a flag both of warning and of hope.
Gaba will participate in the 13th Dakar Biennale which opens on 2 May 2018. He is included in More for Less at A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, from 7 February to 17 May.
The exhibition opens on Saturday 12 May, 10am to 1pm.