Ibrahim Mahama, the African artist who uses coal sacks to critique the trade imbalances in the global market

Stephen Nartey November 23, 2022
Ibrahim Mahama. Image via YouTube/Prince Claus Fund

The goal of every artist is to have their work live beyond public displays in galleries and museums. These are works whose themes are timeless, whether it is touching on imaginative concepts to a world of abstract and inanimate ideas.

That is what Ghanaian-born artist Ibrahim Mahama is seeking to do with his art. He dwells on stitched coal sacks to explain the imbalances in the global exchange and commerce on the international market. His remarkable installations have targeted the unfair conditions of supply and demand in many African markets as well, according to Saatchi Gallery.

His raw materials are sacks imported by the West African nation’s cocoa regulator, Ghana Cocoa Board, for the tonnes of cocoa it exports to Europe and other parts of the world. Mahama collects these sacks after use by cocoa clerks and charcoal sellers and builds his concept out of them. He sometimes displays his art in marketing centers challenging the status quo of artists waiting to have their works in public galleries and museums.

He capitalizes on the markings and trade linkage of where these sacks are from and their names on the jagged brown fabrics to send his message of inequality in commerce and trade. These sacks bear the transit routes and vessels transporting the commodities out of African markets.

These markings and the commercial entity’s names on these sacks speak for themselves. In reality, they carry the marker identity and the role they play in African markets and seek to question the impact they leave on the people.

Mahama’s attempt to question these imbalances dates to his country’s reliance on raw agricultural produce such as cocoa that is exported abroad but brings in few dollars in terms of revenue compared to what European nations and the West make out of it when they add value to it.

The jute sacks have become Mahama’s way of questioning the socio-political laxity also on the part of the governing authorities whose influence stretches far like the coal sacks which embrace every angle of the object the Ghanaian artist seeks to drape it with.

The disparity is depicted with the source of the jute sacks and their final destination with regard to the porters who cart the goods in the scorching sun to the warehouses and ships moving them to Europe and the Western nations, according to the University of Michigan museum of art.

He is described by many art enthusiasts as a visual artist who is concerned about the existing social conditions of his people and rallies activists to speak out on trade inequalities. The usage of jute sack is another attempt to trace the long-standing trade history of agrarian to a developed economy and the role of labor, and call out the governing authorities as well as critique the flaws in the management of the natural resources to the benefit of the masses.

Mahama, who is 35 years old, has set up a public cultural center in his hometown in the Northern part of Ghana to give socio-economic opportunities to the people with regard to employment and education and nurture creative talents.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 23, 2022


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