Art

Taking a look at the artist: Ibrahim Mahama

A photo of Ibrahim Mahama, the artist

How Ibrahim Mahama is redefining Ghanaian artistry and community engagement

Ibrahim Mahama, a prominent Ghanaian artist, has been making waves in the contemporary art scene, recently securing the sixth spot in Art Review’s Power 100 list. His remarkable contributions extend beyond his artistic endeavors, encompassing a commitment to fostering creativity in his hometown of Tamale. Mahama is at the forefront of a dynamic movement known as blaxTARLINES KUMASI, challenging prevailing narratives in Ghanaian contemporary art.

Ibrahim Mahama, seated at one of his exhibitions
Ibrahim Mahama and the seats at the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester -BBC

At the heart of Mahama’s impact are the Savannah Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA), the Red Clay studio, and Nkrumah Voli-ni, three expansive spaces where culture, community, and experimentation converge. In a conversation with YouTuber Caleb Kudah, Mahama emphasized the importance of art as a means to address the world’s challenges, advocating for redistribution and dissemination.

The blaxTARLINES KUMASI collective, led by Mahama and other influential figures like professor karî’kacha seid’ou, has played a pivotal role in reshaping the Ghanaian art landscape. The movement challenges historical constraints, such as dependence on foreign platforms, and has given rise to a new wave of artists mentored by visionaries like Seid’ou.

Ibrahim Mahama's exhibition Out of Bounds, 2015. Site-specific installation, Venice Biennale.
Out of Bounds, 2015. Site-specific installation, Venice Biennale.

Mahama’s SCCA and Red Clay spaces serve as platforms for exhibitions, workshops, and collaborations, welcoming diverse audiences, including schoolchildren and international guests. According to Professor Bernard Akoi Jackson, the venues represent a revolutionary shift in Ghana’s art scene, enabling greater emancipation and daring artistic expressions. 

Currently hosting the multimedia retrospective “Routes of Rebellion,” Mahama’s spaces exemplify their commitment to supporting initiatives beyond their own, showcasing the work of New York-based artist Jesse Weaver Shipley. Nii Obodai, a Ghanaian photographer who founded Nuku Studio and shares Mahama’s commitment to bridging the gap between creative passion and economic sustainability, is in charge of facilitating this initiative. 

Ibrahim Mahama's exhibition - Non-Orientable Nkansa II, 2017. Art Basel, 2018.
Non-Orientable Nkansa II, 2017. Art Basel, 2018.

Obodai’s Nuku Studio, established in an unused warehouse in Tamale, not only provides a space for photographers but also aims to create an entire ecosystem, spanning publishing, design, and curation. This visionary approach aligns with Mahama’s belief in the interconnectedness of art and the economy.

The commitment to community engagement is a shared ethos between Mahama and Obodai, both striving to reach audiences unfamiliar with contemporary art. Their collaboration extends beyond local partnerships, with international connections amplifying the impact of their initiatives. Filmmaker Nuotama Bodomo, based in Tamale, contributes her international network to further enrich the local creative scene.

Ibrahim Mahama's exhibition - The memory of Love
The Memory of Love

The city of Tamale, with its rich cultural tapestry, serves as a fertile ground for artistic exploration. Bodomo’s Mothertongue entity collaborates with local film studios, producing works like “In Search of Yennenga,” highlighting the city’s generosity and vibrant art scene.

Mahama’s unconventional artistic practices, as seen in his video installation “Exchange Exchanger” and the repurposing of a defunct paint factory, reflect his interest in bureaucratic systems and the preservation of historical memory. The inclusion of birth certificates in his work becomes a memorial piece, honoring those who have influenced his artistic journey.

Ibrahim Mahama's exhibition -Malam dodoo national theatre 1992 – 2016. covering of the national theatre of ghana in charcoal jute sacks in 2016 as part of the exchange exchanger project
Malam dodoo national theatre 1992 – 2016. covering of the national theatre of ghana in charcoal jute sacks in 2016 as part of the exchange exchanger project

The ongoing exhibition, “The Gown Must Go to Town,” at the Museum of Science and Technology in Accra, pays homage to Mahama’s significant presence at the 56th Venice Biennale. The exhibition, put on by blaxTARLINES KUMASI, not only honours Mahama’s accomplishments but also exhibits the vibrant contemporary art coming out of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. 

In conclusion, Ibrahim Mahama’s impact extends far beyond his individual artistic achievements. Through his leadership in blaxTARLINES KUMASI and the establishment of transformative art spaces, he is shaping the narrative of Ghanaian contemporary art, fostering a new generation of creatives, and reinforcing the integral connection between art, community, and the economy.

Ibrahim Mahama's exhibition - Children climbing into historical trains. Image courtesy of Ibrahim Mahama/SCCA Tamale/Redclay.
Children climbing into historical trains. Image courtesy of Ibrahim Mahama/SCCA Tamale/Redclay.
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