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on enrobing the Barbican and Ghana’s politics

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After Nkrumah was overthrown, the silos were abandoned. “So for nearly 60 years they were not touched,” says Mahama. They were, he says, reminders of failure. Then, as memories faded, they were simply puzzling shapes in the landscape. “Huge concrete blocks in the middle of nowhere. They were relics, abominations in a way,” he says. 

“You see those buildings, decayed, falling apart, but at the time they were made there was an element of promise. And through art and artists we can somehow resurrect that spirit.” Mahama is currently transforming his silo into a community exhibition space and school, which he plans to open in 2026. “We don’t see failure as an end. We see failure as an opening and as potential for renewed thinking, new trajectories.”

He shows me pictures of the arts centres he’s built back home, in which crowds of children – most of whom, he notes, will never get the chance to visit London – gather to watch him talk about his art, and explore his studio library. It interests him far more than the glitz of the international art world. 

“Our country hasn’t invested in a serious cultural strategy,” he says. “But if you want any society to flourish, you have to bring strong cultural institutions, ones that a generation feel like they belong to. It’s part of the soul, it nurtures them and allows them to think differently.”

After his Barbican jacket Purple Hibiscus comes down in August, it will be shipped back to Ghana. “We will use it differently,” he says. He has his eye on a mosque that might be interesting to wrap up. Could that prove another logistical nightmare? “I usually find a way.”


Purple Hibiscus by Ibrahim Mahama is at the Barbican, London EC1 (barbican.org.uk), from April 10 to August 18; Mahama’s solo show Songs about Roses is at Fruitmarket, Edinburgh (fruitmarket.co.uk), from Jul 13 to Oct 6

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