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Ibrahim Mahama: Negotiations of spaces

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Ibrahim Mahama grew up in Tamale, north Ghana, where he was in daily contact with objects and materials that developed a double meaning for him. His artwork began as a collage and patchwork of items surrounding his daily life, without being explicitly political.

Out of his own lived experiences he re-contextualises spaces and working processes, capturing the body and skin of functional tools.

From a point of crisis Ibrahim starts and develops his artwork.

Used jute sacks sewn together in Ibrahim’s artwork are the skin, containing Ghana’s main export commodity, cocoa beans. Consumed and re-purposed for carrying rice and other commodities across borders, their final use is usually to transport charcoal.

The artist, however, involving local collaborators, revives these in creative re-composition. He began by covering some of his country’s public buildings, which are often out of sympathy with the surrounding lives and spaces.

Now his works cover walls and palaces all over the world, and bring together local collaborators from different cities. The creative process itself is part of this negotiation of spaces, with the collaborators jointly sewing every sack, reviving a use for them after carrying charcoal.

Global transactions and capitalist structures are an important reference, but Ibrahim Mahama has a greater motivation: he intersects occupation and coexistence in creating a new language of objects and signs, revealing their own reasons and story.

Ibrahim’s work develops a new convivial shape, an architecture in dependence, as he called one of  his latest exhibitions, inspired by Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s book by that name, which is a 1960s love story between a young Nigerian who had moved to study at Oxford, and the daughter of an ex-colonial officer.

Shoe-shining boxes, used to carry tools to repair and polish shoes, are the tiles of Ibrahim’s new mosaics, a massive assemblage that recalls rural workers migrating to Accra, the capital of Ghana, and their role in the local economy. The boxes, like the sacks, incorporate a personal dimension of life and character, their bodies are covered with stickers and names, just as the sacks have printed codes, the skin of immigration in political tattoos.

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