Ibrahim Mahama “Garden of Scars” at Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

Commissioned by the Oude Kerk, Mahama has spent the past two years working on his new large-scale site-specific installation. “Garden of Scars” connects local history with an international context. Mahama places over 800 upright stones, composed of casts he made of the floor in the Old Church and the floors of Fort Elmina (1482) on the coast of Ghana, among other places. The shapes of the sculptures are derived from cemeteries in Tamale. The fractures, scratches and cracks in the work represent a history of failure, recovery, repair.

“For me it was very interesting to be able to look at the memory of the space, in relation to the echoes of history, and connection to other spaces.”
Ibrahim Mahama

Walking through the Garden of Scars is a journey through the past of the thousands of Amsterdam citizens who have been buried in the church over the centuries, as well as through the history of Ghana. The 3000-m2 floor area of the Oude Kerk is made up of tombstones. There are many stories and memories attached to them that people identify with to this day. Mahama considers the gravestones in the Oude Kerk as a form of collective memory, and questions the social and political aspects of its formation. He connects the family histories of the merchants, captains and mayors buried in the Oude Kerk with the traces of the history of the ancient forts along the coast of Ghana, where people lived through the (consequences of) colonial trade in Africa. The installation is accompanied by a sound work with sounds that Mahama recorded around these historical sites.

The castles and forts were built on the West African coast from the fifteenth century onwards by traders from Europe, including the Dutch. Fort Elmina, for example, initially served the gold trade and later played an important role in the development of the transatlantic slave trade. Mahama wants to make this shared history visible.

Global networks that were and still are linked to both places are made palpable. ‘I think we should also look to the future. And art is a tool for that,’ says Mahama.

The large-scale installations that Mahama often makes in collaboration with others touch on important issues of our time, both globally and specifically for his home country Ghana. Migration, border crossing, movement (through trade) of goods and people, the reuse of materials and the reinterpretation of buildings are themes that he makes visible in his work. He calls himself a time traveller who shows different places and perspectives simultaneously. Mahama is known for his installations with decommissioned jute sacks sacks, which for him symbolize the bad side of globalization: they are made in Asia, used for exporting cocoa from Ghana, and returned to Ghana as a waste product.

at Oude Kerk, Amsterdam
until March 19, 2023

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