Woven Vessels: with Ibrahim Mahama

Ibrahim Mahama, image source: instagram.com, @artintra_net

Ibrahim Mahama is a Ghanaian artist working in Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale. He has exhibited in galleries across the world, from Cape Town to Kyiv. But what makes his art unique is the radical challenge he presents to institutionalised forms of thinking about artistic production. In his most famous work, he sets out to deconstruct the ideological barriers that prevent us from envisaging creativity in mundane and quotidian places.

Ibrahim began by training at the Kwame Nkrumah University in Kumasi. There, he studied painting and sculpture based on the British curriculum of hand and eye. This division of labour was not, however, what he came to focus on. Yet he credits the university, and in particular, the generation of academics that came before him, with nurturing the methodological experimentalism that he now displays. Professor Sedu, an ardent reformist who clearly has a major impact on Ibrahim, encouraged students to build new inspirations into the discipline, rather than preoccupying themselves with the human body as was traditional to the curriculum.

Mahama became renowned for his work with jute sacks, parts of which were displayed in a 2017 exhibition at The White Cube, Bermondsey. These sacks accumulate in Ghana due to the one-sided trade the charcoal and cocoa industries established with India. The beautiful aesthetics of their hundred different shades – from oatmeal to taupe to camel to dark brown – were the primary factor in the decision to employ this material. But the redolence of diversity, which these large, stitched-up sheets of imperfect and immanently real objects gives off, also speaks to second conditioning that gives meaning to the work. The sacks are, in their everyday utilitarianism, not just objects for economic barter and trade. They also inform opportunities for people to eat, care for themselves, and to make money. Their importance in shaping the local’s lives, through the opening and closing of new and old possibilities, gives them an important standing in the existential schema. Chad A. Haag elaborates a philosophy of oil, which treats the natural resource as a keystone for the structuring of a technologized and highly enabled modern existence. The same can be said for these woven vessels. The global trade which affords Ghanaians the opportunity to access a plenitude of resources in new forms and guises is based upon the condition of being able to use these sacks for commodity exchange. Thus, in appropriating the material for his creative purpose, Mahama builds a commentary on this discarded quotidian object as fundamental to our very being.