Meschac Gaba

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
June 22, 2017–July 28, 2017

Meschac Gaba, Memoriale aux Refugies Noyees (Memorial for Drowned Refugees), 2016, blankets, electric lanterns, 25 1/2 x 60 x 21".

A brilliantly colored tent sits in the large first-floor room of the gallery. You’re invited to draw, write, and discuss inside; the environment is quiet, reminiscent of an elementary-school classroom during recess. The kids are out, but that’s not exactly what’s missing here. Meschac Gaba’s interactive sculpture, Reflection Room Tent, 2017, references the architecture of refugee camps. Its kaleidoscopic stripes, brilliant and gorgeous, are, in fact, stretched images of sundry national flags placed close together. It is Gaba’s utopia, a no-place between countries that simultaneously represents the potential of New York art viewers and the shifted concept of “home” for refugees.

Presented on the second floor are thirteen multicolored wigs in the shape of Washington, DC’s iconic buildings, including White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial, all 2017. An accompanying video, Perruques of Washington, DC, 2017, shows a procession of the mythic structures worn by residents of Cotonou, Benin, a country whose current problems can in part be traced back to its history as the Slave Coast. America’s involvement in that colonial history of forced maritime migration weighs heavily upon the quiet parade and lingers like a ghost. Contemporary tragedy emerges poignantly in Memoriale aux Refugies Noyees (Memorial for Drowned Refugees), 2016. The simple monument is drawn from a tradition in which a stack of blankets and a set of glowing lanterns are laid out on a beach for those lost at sea. It almost distracts from the exhibition’s bright colors, forming an immense gravitational and conceptual pull that utterly unmoors you.

— Patrick Jaojoco