By John Owoo
Museum of Science & Technology
Accra – Ghana
Internationally acclaimed Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, last week explained the complexities, contradictions, politics, social links and other issues that confront the assemblage of his vast sacs that have draped diverse buildings in Ghana and beyond.
Making a presentation at a panel discussion in Accra moderated by artist / academic Dr. Bernard Akoi-Jackson, which forms part of events marking an exhibition dubbed “African Modernism – Architecture of Independence”, he gave a point by point narrative of how these sacs are processed before ending up on giant structures.
Titled “Exchange. Exchanger. Before, After and Hence. Ibrahim Mahama Confronts Max Gerlach, Drew, Fry and Owusu Addo”, the programme attracted diverse people from all walks of life in Accra and beyond, who have been captivated by the installations by Mahama.
Indeed, Mahama’s unconstrained installations and wrappings engage public spaces, while altering ordinary sites into awe-inspiring photographic experiences. They are sporadically embellished by the insertion of mass-produced Chinese/African print patches, which complements an additional layer of interpretation of the global movement of goods.
Sac-draped buildings and monuments by the artist, invite viewers and passers by to experience sublime and highly inspirational artworks, parts of which have been documented in a book titled “Exchange – Exchanger”, which was published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König (Germany) in collaboration with White Cube Gallery and blaxTARLINES KUMASI.
Imported by the Ghana Cocoa Company from India and Bangladesh and re-purposed by charcoal, fertilizer and other merchants, he purchases “millions” of these new sacs and exchanges them for old ones before commencing his economic, political and socially charged works.
Mahama, who is currently a PhD student at the Department of Painting and Sculpture, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, said the preparation process requires effective interaction alongside traversing complicated and multiple publics while forging distinct relationships along the production line.
Touching on the issue of sensitivity during production, he revealed the use of traditional and gender partitioning of labour adding that there are two types of workers – paid ones and collaborators, some of whom have been on several projects while others were simply transient.
His co-panelist, curator Kwasi Ohene Ayeh, who also a PhD student at the Department of Painting and Sculpture (KNUST), dilated on issues confronting Mahama and his practice including visa denials for his collaborators during biennales in Europe – a move, which hampers the globalization of free movement and undeniably his gigantic installations.
He stated that Mahama’s work involves a rather deep interaction with diverse cultures and climates – including shoe-shine boys, refugees, students, porters and many others, who assist in works that uncovers the shipments / ownerships of sacs while rendering visible the mechanisms of trade which define the world’s economy.
Ohene Ayeh equally referred to the commodification of the sacs by Mahama, which obviously initiates communication while mentioning the issue of symbolism, which differs from building to building covered by the colossal Mahama sacs, while uncovering the remarkable transitions of ownership.
Mahama’s work has been displayed in international exhibitions including Documenta 14 in Athens (Greece) and Kassel (Germany) as well as several venues in Accra, Kumasi and elsewhere, where it simply woos the viewing public with its socio-political enquiries.
The exhibition, which ends on Monday August 27, is being presented by Goethe-Institut Ghana in collaboration with the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and blaxTARLINES KUMASI, a contemporary art space at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi.
It was first shown at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil em Rhein (Germany) and is currently touring a number of countries in Africa. It will also be displayed at the blaxTARLINES KUMASI space in September 2018.
Pictures – Goethe-Institut Ghana / Vome