Ibrahim Mahama, who lives and works in Ghana, is fascinated with the transformation of materials and how they become imbued with meaning as they are used and re-used. In this case he has stitched together used jute bags. Steven Nelson, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and one of the National Gallery’s co-curators for Afro-Atlantic Histories.
Mahama takes materials from the urban environment and he thinks about global flows of migration, he thinks about uneven economic exchange between Ghana and other parts of the world. And the work comments upon authority and privilege. It also is a meditation on exploitation and poverty.
Artist Ibrahim Mahama.
The jute sack, of course, I was very much interested in but in the beginning, I quite didn't understand what I was working with. But the way that the material turns to ash because if they put cocoa in it, and then they take it out and then they put maize, rice, charcoal, all the different residues and other things that are left within the materials.
When you think about the labor conditions associated with the production of the commodities and how those bodies are associated, you realize that there's a huge disparity. So those I felt were somehow at a point became accumulated within the material and its physical sense.
And it bears the sweat of laborers, the people who actually did the transportation, did the packing, did the work.
It points to the exploitation of labor in those relationships. And the profits were made possible by the exploitation of that labor and by the poverty that followed. And so we’re also looking at an exploration of crisis and failure. And so you take all of these found objects, that trap in a way memory and symbolism. And putting them together and sewing them together and covering a building or putting them up on a wall at the National Gallery allows those things that are trapped to be released.