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Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama uses re-appropriated jute sacks as artistic material to honor the labor of Black and brown people behind global exchange and commerce

An installation by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History explores global exchange, commerce, and the troubling histories of colonialism and slavery in the Western world.

The installation is the final leg of a multi-venue project led by the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities in collaboration with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the U-M Museum of Art. It is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Mahama creates public art by repurposing materials to explore themes of globalization and economic exchange, honoring the often-invisible labor of Black and brown people behind global exchange and commerce while acknowledging the troubling histories of colonialism and slavery in the Western world.

In-Between the World and Dreams incorporates jute sacks—synonymous with the trade markets of Ghana where he lives and works—as a raw material. In Ghana, Mahama works collaboratively with his community to complete the extensive sewing of the sacks required in preparation for his projects. 

Mahama and his team carefully stitch the worn sacks together to create spectacular architectural interventions. Enveloping the contours of a museum building or wall, the blankets of jute fibers contrast with the monumentality of the spaces they cover, becoming remnants and traces that reference the hands of laborers, the imprints of colonialism, and the interference of Britain and the United States in Ghanian history.

Mahama’s artistic practice illustrates, as he explains, how art education, art, and cultural opportunities “allow for people to find new ways to acquire knowledge, not only of themselves but their histories and the places and spaces in which they find themselves.”

The project, responsive to the present moment, offers students and the broader community the opportunity to engage with the arts at a time when our gatherings inside buildings and museums are limited. It also offers a visual opportunity to witness and reflect, explains Amanda Krugliak, Institute for the Humanities curator. “It is both personal and universal, global and close to home,” Krugliak said. “The work exemplifies our deep connections and responsibilities to one another, and the potential for empowerment through the arts. It acknowledges troubling past histories while, at the same time, offering hopefulness towards building new futures together.”

In-Between the World and Dreams is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to further the Institute for the Humanities Gallery’s longtime mission in support of art as a social practice.