In Conversation with Ibrahim Mahama
Ibrahim Mahama’s work explores the themes of globalisation, trade, and colonialism, particularly in Ghana, where he lives and works.
Working primarily by manipulating found objects, Mahama explores their role as agents of global systems of consumerism, most famously in his use of jute sacks, which stand as metaphors for national histories of growth and decline entrenched within the structures of capitalism.
Turning to the products of electronic waste, Mahama has been commissioned to create a large-scale installation for the upcoming exhibition: 'Waste Age: What can design do?', referencing the Agbogbloshie e-waste dumping site. A former wetland in Accra, Agbogbloshie is the largest e-waste dump in the world, and is used by other countries to dump electronics. The e-waste is smashed or burned by local workers to access the metals inside, a dangerous process that results in injury and illness.
In the absence of a formal recycling process implemented by the nations that dump the items, the metals are reused, causing toxic pollution in the process. As new electronic models are brought out every year, the waste in Agogbloshie continues to accrue. Around 50 million tons of e-waste is discarded, much of it sent illegally by the West to countries in Africa and Asia.
Over the course of an evening, Mahama will discuss this specially commissioned work, as well as the interrogation of exploitative systems of economic exchange present within his wider body of work. This will be followed by a live Q&A where audience members will be given the opportunity to engage in conversation with the artist.
Ibrahim Mahama is based in Ghana. His work has been exhibited globally, including as the youngest artist featured in the Ghana Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. In 2019, Mahama also opened the artist-run project space Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale, followed by the opening of studio complex Red Clay. Encompassing exhibition space, research facilities and an artist-residency hub, both sites represent his contribution towards the expansion of the contemporary art scene in his home country.
Justin McGuirk is the Chief Curator at the Design Museum and one of the curators of ‘Waste Age: What can design do?'. Justin has been the director of Strelka Press, design critic of The Guardian, and Head of Design Curating and Writing at Design Academy Eindhoven. He has lectured at universities and conferences around the world, and he is a former winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. His book 'Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture' is published by Verso.
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Background image: Artwork by Ibrahim Mahama, PARAD(W/M)E III
2021, Litho print and archive paper collage
© the artist. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis).
Ibrahim Mahama Portrait © White Cube George Darrell