After the gigantic inflatable replica of Stonehenge by Jeremy Deller – known to be an “instigator of social interventions” – the Trussardi Foundation has invited Ibrahim Mahama to wow the city of Milan.
The Ghanaian artist, who is among others representing the first Ghana Pavilion at the Venice Biennial this year, is making a detour to Milan for Art Week.
Ibrahim Mahama has something to say and to do so he needs to break the mould and write his story for all to see, because it is the story of all of us. His work is democratic, not only because he takes over the cities he is invited to, abandoning the dusty halls of museums, but also in his use of materials. His monumental installations, similar in size to those of the Land artists, are created using poor materials, objects and symbols of the surrounding urban environment, often jute sacks.
The material is only a pretext to open up broader reflection on contemporary issues, such as migration, globalisation, the environment and the circulation of goods. The jute sacks represent the Ghanaian markets; manufactured in south-east Asia and imported to Africa for the international transportation of goods such as cocoa, the bags are the symbol of conflict, the global economy and market inequality. The bags bear the marks of passage, the labour force and the transport of goods in the form of visible marks, rips, holes, patches and traders’ writing. They tell a story that gains a new chapter every time the sack changes hands.
Exchange is memory and the bags are the most evident proof of this, symbol of capitalism, globalisation, labour and great inequality in the world.
Stitched together like patchwork, often with the help of migrants, the bags create a second skin onto which Ibrahim Mahama draws a new map of the city.
If we assume that spaces are defined by their shapes, their architecture and the ideas they represent, then Ibrahim Mahama covers buildings and monuments with bags in order to subvert these identities and offer new forms and new meanings.
The buildings to be wrapped in this talking cloak are the toll booths of Porta Venezia. Historical location and symbol of Milan, they are the Eastern entrance to the city and one of six main gates in the city walls. Not by chance did Mahama choose this place: a border between inside and outside, city and countryside, a threshold, an area of transition. Milan is reminded of Burri’s canvas and the size and genius of Christo’s installations, in order to breathe life into a new interpretation, that of Ibrahim Mahama.
Written by Chiara Di Leva