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Ibrahim Mahama : Art. Radicalism. Ingenuity. Impact. Vision

The red clay studio is a powerful statement on the importance of using local materials and supporting the community. By sourcing the bricks locally, Mahama is not only supporting the economy of Tamale, but he is also drawing attention to the rich cultural heritage of the area. The use of red clay bricks also speaks to the history of the region, as red clay has long been used in traditional architecture in the Northern Region of Ghana.

In 2020, news emerged of a visual artist from Ghana exploring the use of provocative materials to challenge social and economic disparities. That interestingly was the first time I’d heard of Ibrahim Mahama the artist – who if you’re not tactful would mistake him for the millionaire. His artworks were described as intuitive, non-conventional arts geared towards examining history, challenging the status quo, and upholding the role of labor in society.

At that time, he had won the 2020 Principal Prince Claus Laureate for his illustrious attempt at cloaking UMMA in jute sacks at his famous “ In Between the World and Dreams Exhibition “, ever since, he’s become more popular around the globe, especially among his people [Ghana] and has continually set out to do exceptionally greater things.

Ibrahim Mahama, not the ex-president’s brother, was born in Tamale in the northern part of Ghana in the year 1987 where he evidently grew up. His father was a carpenter and his mother a trader, and he grew up surrounded by the materials and tools that would later become integral to his art practice.

In addition to his sculptures and installations, Mahama is also known for his large-scale drawings, which often depict sprawling landscapes and cities. These drawings are often made with charcoal, a material that is abundant in Ghana and that Mahama has said is “a metaphor for the mark of time.”

Mahama’s work is often political, and he often addresses issues of power and inequality in his art. For example, in his “Contraband” series, Mahama created sculptures made from illegal goods that were seized by customs officials in Ghana. The sculptures were meant to highlight the ways in which globalization and the global economy have created new forms of inequality and poverty.

In addition to exhibiting his work in galleries and museums, Mahama is also known for his public art projects. For example, in 2017, he created a large-scale installation in the city of Accra, Ghana’s capital, that was made from thousands of discarded plastic bags. The installation was meant to raise awareness about the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution.

Mahama’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, Porta Venezia in Italy and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. He has also represented Ghana at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

In recognition of his contributions to the art world, Mahama was awarded the prestigious Prince Claus Award in 2020. The award is given to individuals and organizations in the cultural and creative sectors whose work has made a significant impact in the world.

Despite his international success, Mahama remains deeply committed to his Ghanaian heritage and the communities that have shaped him. He is a vocal advocate for the arts in Ghana and is often involved in initiatives to promote the development of the country’s creative sector.

The Red Clay Studios

With a bold vision to bring the “out of reach” within reach, and a drive to foster young minds, the red clay studio was birthed. Having spent over $300,000 on sending six airplane fuselages to the North, Mahama outdid himself, providing artistic project space, exhibition hub and a cultural lab closer to the children and creative space in the northern part of Ghana. 

The fuselages aren’t the only spectacle to behold at the red clay. For the first time in the history of the northern region, a train has ever been on its soil, through the vision and ingenuity of Mahama, it’s become historic and will now exist as classrooms, libraries and communal spaces.  In a series of tweets, he queried about how new generations could leverage left overs of old innovations to cultivate new memories. Sending those machines up north is significant in depicting the the colonial and post-colonial deprivation of key infrastructure that could have empowered the North economically, says one of his team members.

The studio, which is located in Jenakpen in the Northern Region of Ghana, is a large-scale installation made entirely out of red clay bricks. The bricks were sourced locally and were used to construct the entire building, including the walls, roof, and floor. The studio serves as a space for Mahama to work on his art, but it also serves as a community space where people can gather and interact with the artwork – the parliament of ghosts.

The red clay studio is a powerful statement on the importance of using local materials and supporting the community. By sourcing the bricks locally, Mahama is not only supporting the economy of Tamale, but he is also drawing attention to the rich cultural heritage of the area. The use of red clay bricks also speaks to the history of the region, as red clay has long been used in traditional architecture in the Northern Region of Ghana.

Mahama is considered one of the most important contemporary artists working in Africa today and has exhibited his work in galleries and museums around the world. He is a vocal advocate for the arts in Ghana and is often involved in initiatives to promote the development of the country’s creative sector. His work evoke the memory of the millions of enslaved Africans who were forcibly whisked away by colonizers and has painted vivid pictures of the wide dystopia existing among humanity. 

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