Mahama Transports Ghana’s Journey Post-Independence to London
On 6 March 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to be awarded independence from European colonisation. A turbulent journey with many pitfalls and critical junctures led its people down a road of self- discovery searching for their identity as ‘independent’.
Famous Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah born in 1939, was there to witness and document this journey in his novel Fragments (1970). It tells the story of Baako, a Ghanaian man who left to study in the USA and when he comes back he is regarded as “too westernised”, which causes him to break. The story explores the contrast between the worlds of moral values and materialism, integrity and social pressure. Baako, the protagonist, sees his education as preparation for his journey, however his family expects an ‘elite resume’ to convert into wealth and power. This fight between morals and material results in great loss. Fragments that are antagonistic, form a convoluted identity, one struggling to take form but is torn.
Almost five decades later, one of the biggest artists to have come out of Ghana over the last few years, Ibrahim Mahama, brings Fragments all the way to London. Mahama uses art to illustrate the complexities of Armah’s novel. A hollowed out white cube in Bermondsey’s North Galleries is transformed into the African nation’s journey to find its identity.
Mahama is known for large-scale installations that incorporate jute sacks previously used to transport charcoal and cocoa beans. His large installations with many materials tell history ; as some of the items used bear official writing such as ‘Product of Ghana’, others more spontaneous words including locations and name.
In its Bermondsey space in London, the gallery White Cube presents Ibrahim Mahama’s first solo exhibition in the UK. For this show, Mahama has created a new series of works including Non-Orientable Nkansa (2016), a monumental sculpture formed from stained wooden fragments.For this piece, he collaborated with local providers to obtain hundreds of shoemaker boxes; small wooden structures made from the city’s ‘left overs’ and contain tools for polishing and repairing shoes. It takes us back to the time where ‘shoeshine boys’ used to polish the shoes of the elite. The boxes are gathered together and crammed with other recycled items such as hammers and heels. They are an extension of Mahama’s inquiry into the material and their potential, class divide and the fragments of the Ghanaian identity.
A bold installation of sacks that were used for the transportation of food and commodities as well as many aspects of domestic daily life further tries to explore identity.
In a statement provided to the gallery prior to the exhibition’s opening, Mahama noted, ‘you find different points of aesthetics within the surface of the sacks’ fabric… I am interested in how crisis and failure are absorbed into this material with a strong reference to global transaction and how capitalist structures work.’
Mahama intentionally refers to the jute and cloth works in this exhibition as ‘paintings’, noting that ‘within the larger interventions are moments of detail [of which these] paintings act as extracts.’
An interest in civic activity has taken Mahama into the domain of bureaucratic information gathering and its simultaneous disposal. As he explains, ‘the hope is that their residues – stained, broken and abandoned, but bearing light – might lead us into new possibilities and spaces beyond.’
The exhibition is on until the 13th of April.