AFRICA

It’s been over a year since I’ve set foot in a gallery, although I look forward to a time when I can get back on buses and trains and inside public buildings without anxiety. Meanwhile, I’m still getting my art fix at home.

This month I’ve been looking at the work of Ibrahim Mahama, born in Tampale, Ghana, a young artist who is known for his monumental, sometimes richly textural installations, made out of layered materials, including repurposed jute sacking(historically used for transporting food) and recycled objects and materials collected from all over Ghana. Like the Bulgarian artist Christo, who I wrote about last year, Mahama has even used jute sacking, stitched together on an enormous scale, to cover entire buildings.

The work focuses on the post-colonial experience in Ghana, but avoids being dry or heavy-going. For example, the Parliament of Ghosts exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester in 2019 created a kind of legislative chamber full of archival documents and other artefacts from early on in the creation of the independent state, such as old railway seating and storage cabinets.

Although the work sometimes focuses on the unrealised dreams of independence, it also pays testimony to the valuable human qualities of endeavour, resilience and hopefulness – even in the absence of any direct representation of the body. Instead the well-used artefacts evoke the absent bodies of those involved in the nation’s transition and history. Through the re-working of everyday, quietly momentous objects, that have been an intrinsic part of the lives of so many people, Mahama’s work demonstrates a sort of collective humanity, without ever lapsing into sentimentality.

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