ibrahim mahama: garden of scars

5 November 2022 - 19 March 2023

This autumn, the Oude Kerk will present Garden of Scars, the first Dutch solo presentation by the Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. Over eight hundred memorial stones will be set up in the space, composed of casts of Ghanaian monuments and the gravestones in the Oude Kerk. In the past ten years, Ibrahim Mahama has become an internationally respected artist who, with his work, draws attention to the cultural and social effects of international trade and migration.

about the installation
Commissioned by Oude Kerk Mahama has been working for the past two years on a new large-scale site-specific installation. Garden of Scars connects the history of the Oude Kerk with an international (historical) context. Mahama places over eight hundred upright stones, composed of casts he made from the tombstones in the Oude Kerk and the floors of Fort Elmina (1482) on the coast of Ghana, among other things. The shapes of the sculptures are derived from cemeteries in Tamale. The fractures, scratches and cracks in the sculptures depict a history of failure, recovery, repair.

Walking through the Garden of Scars on the church floor, one walks both through the history of the thousands of people who have been buried here over the centuries, and through the history of Ghana. The 3000m2 floor area of the Oude Kerk is made up of tombstones. There are many life stories and memories attached to them that people identify with to this day. Mahama considers the gravestones in Oude Kerk as a form of collective memory, and questions the social and political aspects of its formation.

He connects the family histories of the merchants, captains and mayors buried in Oude Kerk with the traces of the history of the centuries-old (Dutch) forts along the coast of Ghana where people lived through the (consequences of) colonial trade in Africa. The castles and forts were built on the West African coast from the 15th century onwards by traders from Europe, including the Dutch. Fort Elmina, for example, initially served the gold trade and later played an important role in the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Mahama wants to make this shared history visible. Global networks linked to both places and continuing into the present day are made tangible.

For me it was very interesting to be able to look at the memory of the space, in relation to the echoes of history, and connection to other spaces. Ibrahim Mahama

The large-scale installations that Mahama often makes in collaboration with others touch on important issues of our time, both globally and specifically in his home country of Ghana. Migration, border crossing, movement (through trade) of goods and people, the reuse of materials, the reinterpretation of buildings are themes that he makes visible in his work. He calls himself a time traveller who shows different places and perspectives simultaneously. Mahama became known for his installations with burlap sacks, which for him symbolise the bad side of globalisation: they are made in Asia, used for exporting cocoa from Ghana, and returned to Ghana as a waste product.

about ibrahim mahama
Ibrahim Mahama (1987) lives and works between Accra and Tamale, Ghana. He studied painting and sculpture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. During his university years, he embarked on a series of interventions and activities reflecting on themes of globalisation, labour and the circulation of goods, with works also created through a series of collaborations with Ghanaian citizens. In 2019, he established the Savannah Centre of Contemporary Art in Tamale, which includes workshops for schoolchildren and exhibitions of Ghanaian artists. In 2020, he opened the sprawling Red Clay Studio studio complex, with exhibition spaces, research facilities and artist residencies. In 2020, he received the Prince Claus Fund’s Grand Prize, which is awarded every two years to people who use culture to promote development in their country.

This exhibition was made possible thanks to a financial contribution from Ammodo and Fonds 21.

Still: Arjen van Eijk