“What would it be like to wake up in the morning and there were no boundaries in the world?” Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama about covering a city gate in Milan and what it says about the issue of migration as well as the economic relations between first world and developing countries.

“Europe, actually the whole world has been based on the idea of exploitation for many generations”, Ibrahim Mahama reflects in this interview about his site-specific work A friend commissioned by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in 2019.

Covering one of Milan’s most prominent buildings provoked many people at the time. Many didn’t recognize the installation as a work of art, which to Mahama was “exiting”. To him though it was important – especially in times of rising right-wing political movements all over the world – to create a dialogue between people fearing migration and people wanting to help foreigners coming to Italy and Western Europe.

“When you buy your coffee in the shop, you don’t really think about the migrant worker who is trying to cross the border to come to you while the product of their labor is something you use all the time. But what do you expect a farmer to do when he is not earning the proper amount of money for his produce?”

Ibrahim Mahama uses the transformation of materials to explore themes of commodity, migration, globalisation and economic exchange. Often made in collaboration with others, his large-scale installations employ materials gathered from urban environments, such as remnants of wood, or jute sacks which are stitched together and draped over architectural structures. Mahama’s interest in material, process and audience first led him to focus on jute sacks that are synonymous with the trade markets of Ghana where he lives and works. Fabricated in South East Asia, the sacks are imported by the Ghana Cocoa Boards to transport cocoa beans and eventually end up as multi-functional objects, used for the transportation of food, charcoal and other commodities.

Ibrahim Mahama was born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana. He lives and works in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale. His work has appeared in numerous international exhibitions including NIRIN, 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020); tomorrow, there will be more of us, Stellenbosch Triennale (2020); Future Genealogies, Tales From The Equatorial Line, 6th Lubumbashi Biennale, Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019); Parliament of Ghosts, The Whitworth, University of Manchester (2019); Ghana Freedom, inaugural Ghana pavilion, 58th Venice Biennale, Venice (2019); Labour of Many, Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2019); Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice (2015); Artist’s Rooms, K21, Düsseldorf (2015); Material Effects, The Broad Art Museum, Michigan (2015); An Age of Our Own Making, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen and Holbæk (2016) and Fracture, Tel Aviv Art Museum, Israel (2016). In March 2019, Ibrahim Mahama opened the artist-run project space Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA) in Tamale, Ghana, followed by the opening of Red Clay in nearby Janna Kpeŋŋ in September 2020. Comprising exhibition space, research facilities and an artist-residency hub, both sites represent Mahama’s contribution towards the development and expansion of the contemporary art scene in his home country.

Ibrahim Mahama was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in connection with The World Around conference (https://theworldaround.com/) in New York City in January 2020.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken

Edited by Klaus Elmer

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner

Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021

Supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond

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