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  • Portrait of Ibrahim Mahama, photo by BLOOM. Courtesy of the artist and A Palazzo gallery.

  • Out of Bounds, 2015, installation, mixed media, 56th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of the artist and A Palazzo gallery.

  • Out of Bounds, 2015, installation, mixed media, 56th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of the artist and A Palazzo gallery.

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Ibrahim Mahama’s jute sack installation at Venice Biennale

This year’s Venice Biennale, which is the first during its long history to be curated by an African curator—Nigerian art critic and historian Okwui Enwezor —focuses on the new wave of African artists and the way they have changed the artistic scene of the continent. One of the most prominent representatives of African art is Ghana-born artist Ibrahim Mahama, who has created for the occasion a 300 meter-long, 3,000 kg patchwork installation entirely made of old jute sacks that occupy a big corridor near the Corderie street, on the southern side of the Arsenale. The jute sacks are commonly used in Ghana to transport coal, but were originally used in order to transport cocoa at the end of the 19th century and so on, since Ghana is one of the world’s largest cocoa exporters in the world. Titled “Out of Bounds”, the installation alludes to Ghana’s controversial cocoa industry and the hard labor hidden behind it, —a critic on the inequality and exploitation of the markets.

In Mahama’s artistic practice the jutes acquire symbolic meaning, being used as a metaphor for Ghana’s delicate economic situation. Mahama explores, in this way, the origins of the material and the dynamics of trade that define the world’s economy. “They tell of the hands that lifted them and the products they held as they were carried between ports, warehouses, markets and cities. They tell of the condition of the people who are trapped by those places, and the places themselves”, the artist recently told Arbitare. Taking it a step further, Mahama employs migrant women with no papers to sew the sacks together in his studio, generating synergies and drawing parallelisms between the people and the objects. “Out of Bounds” forms part of a series of monumental public occupations that in the past have included market places, museum facades and railway stations all over the world. The installation will remain on view until November 22, 2015, at the Arsenale, as part of the 56th Venice Biennale’s main exhibition “All the World’s Futures”.