Ibrahim Mahama is an artist from Ghana that creates spaces of social intervention that probe the boundaries between artistic antagonism and civil participation. His preferred medium is that of the burlap sack – in particular, that which was imported by the Ghana Cocoa Board and repurposed by charcoal sellers (MSU, 2020).
Mahama only use jute to make his giant installations. Jute is a symbol of global industrialism and the associated labour with it. There are also strong links to the colonial past and its historical link to empire. Jute is predominantly produced in a few countries in Asia and Latin America and then circulates worldwide through international trade networks (Amarica, 2018). There is a huge amount of physical labour involved in the production of jute sacks and Mahama highlights this by adding one more step in the process – his deconstruction and reassembly into gigantic works of art. Mahama and his many collaborators work together in communal settings, which are often former sites of production — abandoned factories, train stations, markets, or courtyards (Documenta14, 2015). Mahama is trying to highlight the people behind the processes as described by Amarica (2018) ” Regardless of the integral role played by African labourers in this industry, their efforts and the lived realities of rural poverty remain relatively unknown to Western consumers enjoying a decadent and luxurious product, such as chocolate. Here, global capitalist markets not only estrange Western consumers from Ghanaian labourers but render the latter invisible. By making use of a material directly tied to Ghanaian cocoa production, Mahama brings these discussions to the forefront and makes clear that we are all connected to, if not complicit in, the unequal power relations of commodity production”.