Labour of Many: Ibrahim Mahama
Curated by Owen Martin
13 February – 11 August 2019
Norval Foundation is delighted to announce a major installation by Ibrahim Mahama, the first of its kind in South Africa. Mahama’s rigorous, socially engaged and process based practice, brings to the fore Africa’s role in the global exchange of commodities while considering the movement of its people and how labour is valued. For the installation at Norval Foundation, Mahama intervenes in the Foundation’s largest gallery, at nine metres high, covering the surfaces with hessian sacks, contrasting the humility of the materials with the monumentality of the space.
Mahama has created major installations from this material in Ghana and internationally, including covering portions of the Corderie and Arsenale in Venice in Out of Bounds (2014-15), as part of the 56th Venice Biennale; draping the exteriors of the National Theatre of Ghana in Accra in Malam Dodoo National Theatre (2016), the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen in Nyhavn’s Kpalang (2016), and the Former Food Distribution Corporation in Accra in Exchange-Exchanger (2016); and covering the atrium of the Tel Aviv Art Museum in Fracture (2016).
The hessian sacks that Mahama uses often bear the traces of previous owners, narrating a story about the exchange of goods and labour, and are connected to both local and global histories, histories that have conspired to create the present. Imported from India or Bangladesh by the Ghana Cocoa Board and used only once in the transportation of cocoa within Ghana, the organisation’s stamp can be seen on the surface of many of the sacks alongside a prominent ‘Produce of Ghana’.
These sacks are then often reused to transport charcoal from rural areas in Northern Ghana to larger metropolitan centres, such as Accra, Kumasi and Tamale, where charcoal is sold in large markets. Finally, the sacks are repurposed for other uses, such as the transportation of food or are used at home, as a ‘go to’ material. Additionally, the locations and names of the collaborators appear on the surface of some of these sacks, celebrating the contributors, often from a working class background, that have been involved, directly or indirectly, in the creation of the work.
The importance of cocoa for Ghana’s economy is significant, as it is the country’s most important agricultural export and Ghana is the second largest exporter of cocoa in the world. Because of the ubiquity of cocoa, the sacks have particular resonance for Mahama, who was born in Tamale, Ghana and is based between Accra, the nation’s capital, and Tamale, the capital of the country’s Northern region. Mahama holds a BFA in Painting and MFA in Painting and Sculpture, and is currently completing a PhD in Fine Art from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana.