Alumna Rosa Rubin ‘delighted’ with Whitworth. Reviews Ghanaian collection of Ibrahim Mahama

During my Summer holidays I did a days’ work experience at the Whitworth Gallery. I have been to the gallery in the past when looking to be inspired and was delighted with this opportunity to have an insight into its inner workings and to explore the exhibitions in depth. At the start of my day Denise Bowler, a Coordinator within the gallery, showed me round the exhibitions and together we explored the different forms of expression that the Whitworth was displaying. I was then asked to write a short article on an exhibition of my choice as part of a research project for future students. I chose to look at the Parliament of Ghosts exhibition – an archival showcase of artefacts collected by philanthropist Ibrahim Mahama, in relation to the history and culture of Ghana. Throughout the exhibition, Mahama analysed and questioned the environment in which Ghana’s politics and society thrives, ultimately asking how the country can be nurtured further. Mahama succeeded in curating a trove of photograph and textile rich artworks which encourage discussion and reflection. [See article below] 

Rosa Rubin 2
Rosa Rubin delivers her ARTiculation presentation at the North West Regional Final at the Whitworth in Manchester, 2018.

Ibrahim Mahama – Parliament of Ghosts

Originating from Tamale, the artist Ibrahim Mahama delves deep into Ghana’s culture by visually exploring its history and reflecting on the country’s possibility for change. With one eye observing the past and the other firmly fixed on the future, Mahama has addressed the exploitation of Ghana for trade whilst simultaneously celebrating its facets and insistently highlighting the value of the country’s natural wealth. Through instillations and film, Mahama has strung together a collection of textiles, train seats, and images referencing colonialism in order to enforce the idea of the remaining potential in the exploited.

Easily one of the most playful displays in the exhibition are the layers of mounted textiles stretched across boards and collaged over two adjacent walls. These eclectic mixtures of wax resident textiles act as tableaux’s, telling the story of the employed and lineage associated with strip-woven material. Using both natural and technological imagery, the patterns on the boards highlight themes of tradition versus modernity as flocks of birds and trees are interwoven with batik-esque prints of USB charges and shavers. The use of labels refers to production and are scattered amongst the sea of psychedelic and earthy colours which wash over the patterned ‘paintings.’ Paired with these collages are images of arms tattooed with the names of those who have had to leave their homes to find work. Residual and constant, the stock lettering on the outstretched arm reminds us of the sacrifices made by the locals to appease the importing and exporting demands of the Western Powers.

Essentially an archive of Ghana’s exploitation and struggle for re-emergence, Mahama constantly encourages us to question the artifacts and demand change in place of degradation. This is no more apparent than in the makeshift parliament, constructed from 2nd class train seats, lockers and school room cabinets. The inclusion of the salvaged material stales the air of democracy and gives the scene a tired and worn look. Photographs of Jesus and school exercise books assigns the everyday citizens of the Ghanian population with a voice but in this somewhat dilapidated parliament it seems as though their opinions are haunting the rows of seats rather than rising from them, making the future seem evermore uncertain.

If they did speak what would they say? What is the future for Ghana?

The need for change in both Ghana’s society and agriculture is apparent. In his film, Mahama argues that Ghana’s societal hierarchy is yearning for the hands of the youth to take the helm and reject the old way in favour of a new and enlightened attitude. Reclaiming the country’s natural wealth and valuing the land is also key to a bright future.

Throughout the rooms are small artifacts, glimpses into the lives of the colonized and windows into our own economic and political situation. But what is apparent throughout the exhibition is the desire of growth and the possibilities that blossom from this resurgence.


– Rosa Rubin

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