Sitting inside the expansive Whitworth gallery in Manchester is a replica of Ghana’s parliament, completely re-made from old train seats by enterprising 32-year old Ghanaian artist, Ibrahim Mahama, a piece of art called “Parliament of Ghosts.” The artist recovered old train seats and lockers, and repurposed them to create a four-sided imitation of Ghana’s parliamentary chamber.
According to a public information packet on the gallery’s website, Parliament of Ghosts is a “haunting assemblage of lost objects, rescued and repurposed to form a vast parliamentary chamber in the heart of the Whitworth. Abandoned train seats and faded railway sleepers, scrapped school furniture and documents from governmental archives: Mahama lends powerful new context to this residue from a nation in transition.”
Ibrahim Mahama made a name for himself by transforming materials discarded as scrap to explore themes of commodity, migration, politics, globalization and economic exchange. This new installation, however, is monumental.
“The cabinets almost become these living organisms that witnessed the entire life cycles of generations upon generations of how a certain system has somehow been maintained but at the same time the flaws of it. I like to think they are living things that somehow can speak in a language that the workers themselves cannot,” Mahama told BBC.
He plans to create a much larger version of the parliament at the arts centre he opened in his home town, Tamale. According to Mahama, Tamale needs one because he is tired of seeing artist produce works which end up in Europe and elsewhere, far from their own local people, who are then deprived of the experience.
Ibrahim Mahama studied painting and sculpture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. Known for his large-scale, site-specific installations composed of jute sacks that investigate the material remnants of Ghana’s commodity markets, his work has been installed in various public locations in and around Kumasi and Accra.
In the recent past, Mahama has presented solo shows in Ghana from 2009 to 2013 that incorporated cloth bags. In 2015, he was included in the Venice Biennale, featuring works made from jute sacks (originally cocoa and coal sacks) inscribed with names and adorned with regional patterned fabric. For 2019 Frieze New York’s inaugural Sculpture initiative at Rockefeller Center, Mahama created 50 jute sack flags in Ghana, which is currently wind-blown among the 192 flags stationed outside the UN headquarters.
By Tobiloba Ishola