The shift that he operates in the installation Couleurs de Cotonou (2007-2009) is different. It is linguistic and semantic, since the artist plays with both forms and words. It consists in an arrangement of a series of frames, of fullness and emptiness that alternate to illustrate a metaphor of our society: “There is fullness and emptiness in this ensemble, just as there are differences, inequalities, poor and rich people in our society,” he explains.3 Whether empty or full, the frames are ornamented with banknotes, which embel- lish the wooden structures as if they were coated with gold. Contemporary gold, in other words money, is one of the artist’s favourite materials since the first work he presented in the 90s.
This component sparked the curiosity of the Rijksakademie Amsterdam (where Gaba studied) during the entrance examination and remains a constant feature in the artist’s work to this day. While the European jury was surprised to see the artist making such bold use of money as a material, this choice happens to be highly meaningful for Gaba in that it gives an indication of his artistic and political position. In doing so, he moves away from a fetishist conception of African art, in which humble or salvaged materials are used, and readily manipulates what our entire society manipulates: nowadays, money makes decisions”, he declares.4
What the artist is portraying here is his vision of a globalised African society, strongly attached to the perpetual flow of money.
Text Francesca Cozzolino