Concerned with value, global commerce and the detritus of colonialism, artist Ibrahim Mahama is known for large-scale installations made from materials with particular significance to Ghana's past and present.Read More
Mahama was born in Tamale, Ghana in 1987. In 2010, he earned a BFA in Painting from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana; and in 2013, earned an MFA in Painting and Sculpture from the same institution.
Mahama is perhaps best known for his large-scale works made from jute sacks. Made in Southeast Asia before being imported to Ghana, jute sacks are used in markets and to transport goods such as food, charcoal and coal.
To Mahama, the sacks represent a complex system of global exchange and a freedom of movement afforded to goods over people. Often, he works with collaborators to stitch tattered sacks together to create enormous patchwork quilts, which are draped over buildings including theatres, museums and apartments.
In 2015, Mahama gained international attention when he used jute sacks to encase public structures in Athens for documenta 14, and a long outdoor corridor in the Arsenale complex at the Venice Biennale.
Two years later, the artist mounted his first solo exhibition at White Cube in London. The show's title Fragments was borrowed from an eponymous 1970 novel by Ayi Kwei Armah, which explores the relationship between the individual and society, against a background of materialism, moral decay and civic corruption in a newly independent Ghana.
The focal point of the White Cube show was the monumental sculpture Non-Orientable Nkansa (2016), for which Mahama worked with dozens of collaborators to make replicas of the small wooden boxes typically used in Ghana to house tools for polishing and repairing shoes, and when flipped upside down to drum for business.
Mahama returned to Venice in 2019 to represent his country at the 58th Venice Biennale. Curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and designed by Sir David Adjaye (with the late Okwui Enwezor as strategic advisor), the Ghanian Pavilion presented work by Mahama, alongside El Anatsui, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, and Selasi Awusi Sosu. Mahama's work, A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History, comprised a bunker like installation of mesh cages ordinarily used to smoke fish, exercise books, maps, and fragments of smoked fish.
Also in 2019, Mahama mounted the exhibition Parliament of Ghosts at Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, UK. The show took as its point of departure Ghana's railway system, which was built under British colonial rule to aid in the extraction of natural resources. Confronting viewers with stark evidence of failed infrastructure and colonial inequality, Mahama brought into the gallery 120 scratched, plastic seats from second-class trains, as well as historical photographs and scraps of leather from first-class carriages.
In 2021, the artist presented his work again at White Cube in a show entitled Lazarus. Including large-scale installation, collage, film and sculpture, the exhibition's point of departure is 'Nkrumah Voli-ni', a building located in Tamale, Ghana, which the artist owns, lives works in, and intends to convert into a cultural institution.
Mahama has been photographing and researching silos since 2015, and Nkrumah Voli-ni's comprises a Brutalist-style silo built to store grain and other food during the post-independence era. Abandoned in 1966, it has become host to various animals, including a colony of bats, which Mahama has decided to protect and co-habit with. The exhibition is intended to address the passage of time, the notion of obsolescence and the potential for regeneration.
Mahama's practice extends to the public sphere. In 2019, he founded the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art—an artist run hub for research, engagement and artist residencies in Tamale. He also founded its sister organisation Red Clay in the Northern Region of Ghana.
From April 2021 until March 2022, Mahama's large-scale sculpture 57 Forms of Liberty (2021)—an inverted industrial tank—is installed on the High Line in New York City.
In 2019, Mahama was named the 73rd most influential African by theafricareport.com. In 2021, he was one of six artists shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth commissions in Trafalgar Square, in 2022 and 2024.
In addition to the inclusion of his work at the Venice Biennale and in documenta14, the artist's work has also been included in NIRIN, 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Tomorrow, there will be more of us, Stellenbosch Triennale, Cape Town (2020); Future Genealogies, Tales From The Equatorial Line, 6th Lubumbashi Biennale, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ibrahim Mahama's solo shows include In-Between the World and Dreams, University of Michigan Museum of Art, USA (2020); Living Grains, Fondazione Giuliani, Rome (2019); Fracture, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (2016); Material Effects, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, Michigan, United States (2015); and Civil Occupation, Ellis King, Dublin (2014).
Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2021