Ibrahim Mahama: The Memory of Love

Frac des Pays de la Loire , Nantes, France
02 Jul 2022 - 02 Oct 2022

Ibrahim Mahama. Courtesy White Cube

Ibrahim Mahama. Courtesy White Cube

Over the past ten years, Ibrahim Mahama (born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana) has been turning out a meticulous body of work socially engaged, interacting with the various museums, art centres, monuments and other public spaces that have hosted him. Through his—frequently spectacular—art works, the artist deconstructs historical situations plagued by the notion of failure or crisis in order to excavate the positive effects that may arise from such contexts. Jute sackcloth, shoe-shine boxes and sewing machines form the raw materials of imposing installations that explore the themes of labour, migration, globalisation and economic exchange.

For his first solo exhibition in France, Ibrahim Mahama continues to reflect upon recycled materials, the flow of goods and knowledge, while also branching out in a new direction. The Memory of Love is a blend of architecture, furniture, music and textile archives.

From the outset, visitors are greeted by Untitled (2019). Hoisted on the building’s façade to herald the site of the Frac from near and far are six flags taken from the 25 that made up the work when it was first presented in New York in front of the iconic Rockefeller Center. Made from jute sacks sourced or traded in Ghanaian markets, the banners revisit one of the artist’s favourite materials. These sacks, used to transport precious commodities such as cocoa beans, bear the memory of those men and women—migrants, labourers and the like—who carried them and sometimes marked them with their names.

Once inside the exhibition space, elements such as doors and windows taken from near the artist’s workshop in Tamale—located on the site of a former grain silo in the Brutalist architectural style of the 1960s—are combined with a selection of pieces from his own collection of wax prints and other colourful hand-crafted fabrics with a multitude of symbols and meanings. The disc motif—which also suggests a circle or water—found on the twenty or so doors that constitute the main work appears to echo the presence of records featuring over 50 albums of music typical of the post-independence period. Collected from the family of a Ghanaian DJ, these discs are mostly relics of the post-colonial period, as are the doors, shelves (from his alma mater) and wooden armchairs. The various designs—“Kofi Annan’s brain,” “Money can Fly,” “Fly whisk”—of these printed fabrics, also featured throughout the other panels/sculptures, revisit the history of Ghana in their own way, be it to praise political heroes, to commemorate historical events or to affirm social identity. Having initially trained as a painter, Ibrahim Mahama here reveals his taste for composition, material and colour. A reminder of a bygone age, vestiges of a time whose effects are constantly reappraised, The Memory of Love leads the viewer on a sensitive journey—of both sight and sound—through space and time. —Claire Staebler, Director of the Frac Pays de la Loire

Ibrahim Mahama (1987, Tamale) graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, with a Master’s degree in painting and sculpture in 2013 and a Bachelor’s Fine Arts degree in painting in 2010.

In addition to his artistic practice, Mahama created the Red Clay Studio and the Savannah Art Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA) in 2019—two aspirational structures through which he develops productions, exhibitions and workshops for a wide-ranging audience. In 2021, Mahama launched Nkrumah Volini, a centre of cultural and artistic education housed in a former grain silo, as an extension of the SCCA and Red Clay Studio.

Mahama has exhibited at numerous international events (Venice Biennale in 2015 and 2019; documenta in 2017; Biennale of Sydney in 2020), and enjoyed a major solo show at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester in 2019. He is currently mounting a solo show, to be held in autumn 2022 at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam. In 2023, he is due to be the artistic director of the 35th Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts (Slovenia).