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Exhibitions and Events

Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama to blanket U-M Museum of Art with jute sacks

By Stephanie Harrell

The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design has created a new $25,000 prize to advance the project of one graduating senior.

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities will begin installing the work of Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama on the facade of the U-M Museum of Art Sept. 28.

The large-scale public art installation—the first outdoor exhibition of Mahama’s work in the United States—is part of a three-part project of his art that also includes a sidewalk gallery at the U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery and an installation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. 

In addition to the large-scale installation at UMMA, viewers can peek into Ibrahim Mahama’s exhibition at the Institute for the Humanities at any time of day.

Mahama creates public art by repurposing materials to explore themes of commodity, migration, globalization and economic exchange. “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. For the U-M installations, he incorporates materials from his previous seminal works over the last decade as a retrospective.

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 U.S. 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 is responsive to the present moment and offers students and the broader community the opportunity to engage with the arts in a public space at a time when gatherings inside buildings and museums are limited. 

“It also offers a visual opportunity to witness and reflect—it is both personal and universal, global and close to home,” said Amanda Krugliak, Institute for the Humanities curator. “The work exemplifies our deep connections and responsibilities to one another, interwoven, 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.”

Staff from the U-M Institute for the Humanities prepare the jute sacks from Ghana for installation.

“In-Between the World and Dreams” is a multivenue project led by the U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery, with exhibitions of Mahama’s work at three locations:

  • Oct. 1-23: U-M Museum of Art, 525 S. State St., Ann Arbor
  • Oct. 1-23: Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor (viewing from the gallery window only) 
  • Oct. 12-Dec. 5: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit

Mahama will participate in a virtual conversation Oct. 23 with Krugliac; Ozi Uduma, assistant curator for global contemporary art at UMMA; and Neil Alan Barclay, president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History as part of this year’s Penny Stamps Speaker Series lineup, being presented in partnership with Detroit Public TV and PBS Books. 

“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 social practice.


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