Ibrahim Mahama receives 2020 Principal Prince Claus Laureate

Ibrahim Mahama is a visual artist who is actively involved in improving social conditions. His powerful artworks use provocative materials and sites to examine and expose histories, uphold the role of labour, challenge authorities and criticise mismanagement of resources. Directly addressing lack of opportunities and facilities in his home region, he has set up an open­ access cultural centre and other social projects providing employment, education, studio space and creative activities.

The Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art, located in Tamale, Ghana, is an artist-run project space, exhibition and research hub, cultural repository and artists’ residency. It is an initiative of world-renowned Ghanaian artist, Ibrahim Mahama, as a contribution towards the development and expansion of the contemporary art scene in Ghana. SCCA-Tamale intends, with its diverse programming and research interests, to spotlight significant moments in Ghanaian and international art in a communal space. Affiliated to blaxTARLINES KUMASI, the Centre is operated by committed, dedicated and generous persons who produce a critical discourse that will eventually be disseminated through exhibitions, publications and allied activities. SCCA-Tamale is dedicated to art and cultural practices which emerged in the 20th Century and inspire generations of artists and thinkers of the 21st Century and beyond.

In an interview feature in ART AFRICA, Mahama had the following to say about the SCCA-Tamale:

“The SCCA was originally conceived of as a studio space. I am very interested in the history of art as well as the history of exhibitions from Ghana and how local spaces have exhibited art and the forms those works have taken over the years. There was a pattern. Most of the early modernists up until the late ’90s and early 2000s were mostly exhibited in hotel spaces. The national museum was supposed to have been designed and completed but never was. Such institutions were supposed to be for exhibiting and contextualising artists’ works and the kind of work artists were making, and the uncompleted museum affected the way a lot of artists made their work. If you are going to exhibit your work knowing that it will be exhibited in a specific space it limits the material values in your mind and how you go about approaching and producing the work. That was one of the main reasons that motivated me – as an artist – to create a space outside the traditions of exhibition spaces. I find it exciting to go to old factory spaces, marketplace centres, and abandoned modernist structures. The history of these spaces have become very important to me as starting points to produce my own artwork. I travelled around the country, inspired by factory and workshop spaces, borrowing some of the architectural formalities of these institutions in the construction of the SCCA. I originally conceived the SCCA as a studio space, as a place of production, but at the same time I was also interested in what producing something can mean to its exhibition context. The idea was to create something that gave artists and practitioners the liberty and the freedom – with regards to space – to play around and to stretch their ideas in whichever way they wanted. It’s been received very well. The cultural sector, particularly fine art, has not been perceived as a space worth investing in, especially in poor regions, but that was not my concern. My concern was the existence of the institution and what it can propose. There have been a lot of activities happening there, school children visit our library regularly, and we are also creating an educational programme which involves film screenings and inviting artists and other practitioners to give lectures. I think that it will begin to open a different kind of community altogether.”

Read our interview with Ibrahim Mahama in our Digital Edition here.