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Ibrahim Mahama | Driving progress through creativity

Design Indaba’s annual festival and conference are highly anticipated events on the creative calendar. Having established itself internationally as one of the premier multidisciplinary programmes in the world, it consistently draws the globe’s luminaries to its stage. One of the speakers that Creative Feel is most looking forward to this year is Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama.

Design Indaba 2020 Ibrahim Mahama
Ibrahim Mahama, Check Point Sekondi Loco. 1901–2030. 2016–2017, 2016–17. Various materials. Torwache, Kassel, documenta 14. PHOTO Ibrahim Mahama

With ‘a better world through creativity’ as their guiding principle, Design Indaba has continually shown their commitment to positive change through design-led thinking. In line with this powerful impetus, they’ve created a legacy for including speakers in the programme whose work seeks to better the world we live in – whether through technological advances, environmental advocacy, or simply social change that fosters healthier communities. 
     Celebrating a quarter-century in 2020, Design Indaba is more committed than ever to offering a world-class event that not only equals its past stature, but also builds upon it. This impressive 25-year milestone offers an opportunity too: to look forward, as well as back. With the world in a period of flux (some might argue crisis), solutions-driven thinking is more important than ever. 
     Design Indaba has been built on the foundation that creativity drives progress and opens doors. In times of challenge, it can prove the key to unlocking the cures. As a result, the three-day programme will continue to offer a spectrum of events that prompt people to think, and act. From the Emerging Creatives showcase, to the daily action outside on the piazza, and, of course, the conference itself, the programme is designed to catalyse creativity, foster networking and inspire progress and innovation across disciplines and divides. 
     This year, Ghanaian star Ibrahim Mahama will join the ranks of artists who have shared their processes and visions with the conference delegates. 

Design Indaba 2020 Ibrahim Mahama
Check Point Sekondi Loco. 1901-2030. 2016-2017 documenta 14. Kassel, Germany PHOTO Ibrahim Mahama

As the youngest artist to exhibit in the first-ever Ghanaian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Mahama’s renown – both for the scale of his work as well as the way in which it tackles complex and complicated aspects of his country’s past – is growing worldwide. Perhaps best known for his monumental installations, which see architectural structures draped in vast patchworks of old jute sacks, comparable to the work of the great Christo, but Mahama is not concerned simply with spectacle. These pieces represent the very fabric of Ghanaian life. 
     Once the leading producer and exporter of cocoa, Ghana’s legacy of commerce is tied to these seemingly innocuous objects. Once they’ve served their purpose in housing cocoa, they go on to live extended lives of usefulness as a means of transporting coal. The artist acquires and reappropriates these materials – integral in the commercial functioning of his country – and examines the methods and processes they play a part in by reimagining their makeup and stitching them back together in new forms. Typically installed in art spaces and public markets, this draping draws attention to the global transportation of goods across borders. Mahama’s belief in the role of art in not only making symbolic objects but also shifting existing perspectives lends his installations great conceptual strength. 
     ‘I used jute sacks because the history of crisis and failure is absorbed into the material. Their history speaks of how global transactions and capitalist structures work. Their humbleness contrasts with the monumentality of the buildings they cover,’ he explains. 

Design Indaba 2020 Ibrahim Mahama

Mahama’s affinity for the everyday and discarded object extends further than just the jute sacks he’s become known for. A recent exhibition in Manchester saw the artist bring over dozens of plastic train seats and abandoned wooden lockers for his show Parliament of Ghosts. By creating a four-sided imitation of Ghana’s parliament chamber at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, he addressed the optimism of post-independence Ghana and the subsequent failure to capitalise on opportunities (the ‘ghosts’ in his title). Ghana’s train system is a symbol of this. Built under British colonial rule, it was due to be expanded after 1957, but economic growth struggled to gain momentum and military coups halted progress. As a result, the railways were neglected for decades.
     Examination of his home’s political and cultural structures has led to action of another kind. Mahama has also founded the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in his native Tamale in Ghana, with the goal of developing and expanding the contemporary art scene in Ghana. 
     The Design Indaba conference will once again take place early in the calendar – kicking off the year with a high-octane programme of dynamic talks, exciting exhibitions and engaging workshops. It will run from 26 to 28 February 2020 at the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town. Additionally, it will be broadcast live via simulcast to major cities around the country, allowing design devotees in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Potchefstroom to take part in this must-attend event.

To keep up-to-date with the latest arts and culture news in South Africa, purchase the February / March 2020 issue of Creative Feel or subscribe to our bi-monthly magazine for only R225.00 per year! SUBSCRIBE HERE!

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