Ibrahim Mahama Receives Prince Claus Award 2020

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Ibrahim Mahama (1987, Tamale) is a visual artist who is actively concerned with improving social conditions. His powerful artworks bring attention to the precarious, frustrated lives many people endure and call society to account.

Mahama completed a BFA (2010) and MFA (2014) at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). While still a student he closely examined and saw potential in the jute sacks used to make plaster casts. Originally part of the global trade system and restricted to one-time use for the export of luxury commodities such as cocoa, these sacks return to Ghana as waste and are then continuously used and reused to transport goods, store belongings or repurposed as bedding, furnishings etc. Highly valued by disadvantaged communities and handled by hundreds of people, the sacks carry evidence of people’s lives in the accumulated marks of use and ownership: company logos, handwritten names and addresses, residues of charcoal, rice, grease and sweat, signs of damage, decoration and repair. Mahama uses these old sacks and other similarly impregnated materials in huge installations at significant public sites, as well as sculptures and wall pieces.

In Ghana, Mahama’s work challenges the authorities’ failure to carry out the visionary hopes and plans of independence, build infrastructure and provide opportunities and basic needs for citizens. His long-term Occupation series has used huge swathes of sacking to draw attention to disintegrating industrial projects, dilapidated housing units and moribund public institutions including university buildings, churches, national theatre and museum, among others. Exchange/Exchanger involved simultaneously wrapping 22 sites across Accra, mapping the extent of post-independence decay. The daily struggle to survive on city streets is the subject of Non-Orientable Nkansa (2017), an assemblage of hundreds of well-used shoe-repair boxes made from scraps and personalised with loving detail by their owners.

The value of human labour is central to Mahama’s work and important in its production. He collaborates with hundreds of people from all sections of society in gathering and assembling materials, discussing options and direct input. Parliament of Ghosts (2019), an installation of salvaged remains from abandoned railway infrastructure, includes the names and photographs of the tattooed arms of people who collaborated in its production.

In 2019, Mahama set up the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art, a free-access, artist-run, non-profit hub for cultural events with hundreds of students visiting on a daily basis to participate in workshops, use the library or attend film screenings.

Mahama spreads his ideas in local forums and collaborates with KNUST’s Department of Painting and Sculpture to document and exhibit the works of emerging and older artists, as well as donating equipment and library books.


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