by Ibrahim Mahama
In this multi-venue project led by the Institute for the Humanities, in collaboration with UMMA and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama explores global exchange, commerce and the troubling histories of colonialism and slavery in the Western world.
At the U-M Museum of Art, massive, quilt-like panels cover 4,452 square feet of the exterior of the building, creating one of the spectacular architectural interventions Mahama is known for. A related installation at the U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery can be viewed (and heard) from a sidewalk window. At the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, jute sacks blanket a wall of the Community Gallery .
Mahama's artistic practice illustrates, as he explains, how art education, art and cultural opportunities "allow for people to find new ways to acquire knowledge, not only of themselves, but their histories and the places and spaces in which they find themselves."
Enveloping the contours of a museum building or wall, the blankets of jute fibers are meant to contrast with the monumentality of the institutional buildings and spaces they cover, becoming remnants and traces that reference the hands of laborers, the imprints of colonialism and the interference of Britain and the U.S. in Ghanaian history.
The project marks the first outdoor exhibition of Mahama's work in the United States. It is responsive to the present moment, offering students and the broader community the opportunity to engage with the arts in a public space at a time when gatherings inside buildings and museums are limited.
Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama’s installations are cumulative moments of reckoning, mending, and recycling. Things fall apart, come undone. His constructions defy any notions of permanence and longevity. They are monuments to the in-between and the upending, begging the question, “What can we do?”
Mahama incorporates jute sacks—synonymous with the trade markets of Ghana where he lives and works—as a raw material. He works collaboratively with his community to complete the extensive sewing of the sacks required in preparation for his projects. For the U-M installations, he incorporates materials from his previous seminal works over the last decade as a retrospective.
The markings, stitching, and signs of wear on the jute remind us of the many changing hands and endless labor behind international trade—the human toll of capitalism, commodification, and globalization. The fabric itself acts as metaphor for Ghana’s complicated history defined by Dutch colonialism and the Gold Coast slave trade, British rule till 1957, and a future de-railed by military coups post-independence.
Rather than grand gestures, Mahama’s installations are humble acts of endurance. They are covert art take-overs, subverting architecture and disrupting the pristine fascia of our institutional buildings. They hold us accountable for past trespasses.
Mahama is committed to offering his own country the same cultural opportunities and experiences available to those in the West. Most recently he designed and opened the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Arts in his hometown of Tamale Ghana, contributing towards the expansion of his country’s contemporary art scene. An extension of his art practice, the centre brings Mahama’s many visionary sketches to life, creating classrooms in old airplanes, a swimming pool for children’s play, and public spaces for gatherings and the exchange of ideas.
In this pivotal year defined by Covid-19, worldwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, climate change, and our U.S. Presidential election in the balance, Ibrahim Mahama’s work acknowledges failures and false promises, but also the opportunities that can reveal themselves in times of crisis.
Perhaps generations emerging from crisis can learn from the ghosts of the past and generate entirely new systems, not motivated by profit or self-interest, but by a deep commitment to the hard work ahead, our willingness to do it, and to the mutual space for dreams.
–Amanda Krugliak, arts curator, Institute for the Humanities and curator of In Between the World and Dreams
In-Between the World and Dreams is a multi-venue project led by the U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery, in partnership with UMMA and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit.
In-Between the World and Dreams is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to further the Institute for the Humanities Gallery’s longtime mission in support of art as social practice.
Oct. 1-23; large-scale public art installation, U-M Museum of Art building facade, 525 S. State St., Ann Arbor
Oct. 1-23: sidewalk gallery, Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor (viewing from the gallery window only)
Oct. 12-Dec. 5: Community Gallery installation, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit
Penny Stamps Speaker Series with Ibrahim Mahama
Oct. 23, 8pm, webcast at http://pennystampsevents.org/