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First Major Contemporary Art Society Acquisition for UK Museum By Award-winning Ghanaian Artist Ibrahim Mahama

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First Major Contemporary Art Society Acquisition for UK Museum By Award-winning Ghanaian Artist Ibrahim Mahama

Eight photographic C-prints by Ibrahim Mahama that consider the internal migration of workers in Ghana and the extractive mining industry in the South of the country have been acquired by the Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund at Frieze; the suite of photographs will enter the collection at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

Ibrahim Mahama explores themes of commodity, migration, and globalisation. His work is alert to the impact movement can have on the local environment as well as concerns around land-use change, and social unrest. The photographic C-prints, all from 2019, depict the tattooed arms of long-term collaborators Mahama has worked with in Ghana. Some are overlaid on historic colonial maps of key locations, cities, and villages across the country. Others are photographed against decaying leather train seats, salvaged from the Gold Coast Railway. Tattooing family names or locations of birth on forearms is a common practice throughout rural Ghana, due to a lack of basic identification papers like birth certificates or driver licences.

Since 2019, Ibrahim Mahama has established three cultural centres in Ghana – The SCCA, in his hometown of Tamale, Red Clay studios in nearby Janna Kpeŋŋ and Nkrumah Volini, a renovated brutalist silo. All are artist-run project spaces, exhibition and education centers, a cultural repository, and artists’ residencies. These institutions are Mahama’s contribution to the development and expansion of the contemporary art scene in Ghana, with the aim to inspire and empower his local community through engagement with art. In keeping with the artist’s belief in circular economies, Mahama funds the building and programming at all three locations through the sale of his artworks, which are typically made with local collaborators at his own studio there.  

Steve Miller, Director of Culture and Heritage, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, “Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery is delighted to be acquiring this series of work by Ibrahim Mahama, works which will greatly enhance our commitment to showing the highest quality contemporary art in our region. The works speak to global themes which run through our historic and contemporary collections, exploring the impact of human activity on our environments. As the Castle’s major redevelopment project heads towards completion in 2024, we look forward to presenting Mahama’s work in our galleries and thank the Contemporary Art Society for their continued, transformative support.

Rosy Gray, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, said: “This series of works by Ibrahim Mahama builds on Norwich Castle’s existing collection, providing insight into global narratives around land ownership and human migration. Contemporary collecting at Norwich Castle is often positioned within the context of the Norwich School, a collection of 19th landscape paintings alert to both the specificity of the local environment, and to broader concerns such as the enclosure of lands and social unrest. The acquisition of works by Mahama significantly expands these narratives, and with specific reference to British colonial rule in Ghana, platforms the impact of human activity on both historic and contemporary environments.

Ibrahim Mahama, artist, said: “I think it is interesting to consider of the body in relation to the trains that were built along Southern Ghana, and the migration of Ghanaians from the North to the South during the Anglo-Ashanti war and subsequent economic migration. As we see in these photographs, I look at the relationship between the body, tattoos, and the maps created by the British. The scars visible on the leather remind us of traditional identity scars commonly found within local tribes. Though, I understand that my work touches on colonial legacy, my focus has been to look at the impact and memory of migration and how that can lead us to creating new memories for the future.

Caroline Douglas, Director of Contemporary Art Society said: “That Mahama's work has been so prominently featured in international exhibitions from Venice to Chicago in recent years, demonstrates how powerfully he is articulating the contemporary legacies of colonial history in Ghana. He brings us an understanding of lived realities we might otherwise be completely ignorant of. We are very proud to be bringing this major body of work permanently to the UK.

The Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund was set up in 2012 and is designed to support the acquisition of significant contemporary works for Contemporary Art Society museum members across the UK, drawing together the knowledge and experience of private collectors with that of museum curators.

The Collections Fund at Frieze was awarded to the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery after a competitive application process open to the Contemporary Art Society’s 75 museum members across the UK. The work acquired through the Collections Fund at Frieze will form part of the opening display once Norwich Castle Museum’s major redevelopment project is complete in 2024

Notes to Editors:

Founded in 2012, the Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund is designed to support the acquisition of significant contemporary works for Contemporary Art Society museum members across the UK. For 2019 the Contemporary Art Society is once again partnering with Frieze London, with the CollectionsFund at Frieze purchasing a major work at the fair for Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery. A key aim of the scheme is to draw together the knowledge, experience and expertise of private collectors with that of museum curators in a programme of research leading to an acquisition. Past acquisitions through the Collections Fund have included works by Simon Fujiwara for Leeds Art Gallery (2013); Ben Rivers for Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove, and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (2014); Hito Steyerl for GoMA, Glasgow (2015); John Akomfrah and Kader Attia for mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (2016), Dineo Seshee Bopape for Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (2017); Kehinde Wiley and Zadie Xa for The Box, Plymouth in 2018; and Zanele Muholi for Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery in 2019; Sunil Gupta, Hetain Patel, and Billie Zangewa for Harris Museum in 2021. The 2022 Collections Fund at Frieze is co-chaired by The Lady Lupton and Nicola Blake. The committee includes: Liesl Fichardt, Emma Goltz, Sasha Hackel, Soo Hitchin, Stephanie Holmquist, Suling Mead, Minka Nyberg, Pamela Stanger and Cathy Wills.

Ibrahim Mahama was born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana. He lives and works in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale. He is represented by White Cube and A Palazzo Gallery. His work has appeared in numerous international exhibitions including FRAC des Pays de la Loire, France (2022); The Highline, New York (2021) NIRIN, 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020); tomorrow, there will be more of us, Stellenbosch Triennale (2020); Future Genealogies, Tales From The Equatorial Line, 6th Lubumbashi Biennale, Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019); Parliament of Ghosts, The Whitworth, University of Manchester (2019); Ghana Freedom, inaugural Ghana pavilion, 58th Venice Biennale, Venice (2019); Labour of Many, Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2019); Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice (2015); Artist’s Rooms, K21, Dusseldorf (2015); Material Effects, The Broad Art Museum, Michigan (2015); An Age of Our Own Making, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen and Holbæk (2016) and Fracture, Tel Aviv Art Museum, Israel (2016). In March 2019, Ibrahim Mahama opened the artist-run project space Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA) in Tamale, Ghana. The centre, which serves as an exhibition space, research facility and artist-residency hub, represents Mahama's latest contribution towards the development and expansion of the contemporary art scene in his home country.

The Contemporary Art Society champions the collecting of outstanding contemporary art and craft in the UK. Since 1910 the charity has donated thousands of works by living artists to museums, from Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore in their day, through to the influential artists of our times, like Kehinde Wiley, and Sonia Boyce. Sitting at the heart of cultural life in the UK, the Contemporary Art Society brokers philanthropic support for the benefit of museums and their audiences across the entire country. Their work ensures that the story of art continues to be told now and for future generations. www.contemporaryartsociety.org

One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Norwich Castle was built by the Normans as a Royal Palace over 900 years ago and spent at least 500 years as the county prison. It is now a museum and art gallery and home to some of the most outstanding collections of fine and decorative arts, archaeology and natural history, not only in the region, but the country. Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery is part of Norfolk Museums Service, a multi-award-winning service comprising ten museums and a study centre. NMS is now regarded as one of the leaders in the museum sector and from April 2018 has been a National Portfolio Organisation for Arts Council England, one of only 45 out of 845 heritage and arts organisations in England to be awarded the highest level of support. It is also a recipient of major support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, in particular the current Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project to transform the Castle’s Norman Keep. Norfolk Museums Service is a partnership between Norfolk County Council and Norfolk's district councils, funded through council tax, earned income and grants. www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

Frieze is one of the world’s leading platforms for modern and contemporary art, for scholars, connoisseurs, collectors, and the general public alike. Frieze comprises three magazines – frieze, Frieze Masters Magazine and Frieze Week – and five international art fairs – Frieze London, Frieze Masters, Frieze New York, Frieze Los Angeles and Frieze Seoul (launching September 2022). In addition, this October, Frieze launched No.9 Cork Street, a hub for visiting international galleries in the heart of Mayfair, London. Frieze is part of the IMG network. www.frieze.com