Artist Ibrahim Mahama Covers London’s Barbican in Purple Fabric

Created in collaboration with Ghanaian craftspeople, Purple Hibiscus comprises 2,000 meters of handwoven textiles.

Apr 9, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Purple Hibiscus installation in London by Ibrahim Mahama, 2023-24, photographed by Pete Cadman, via the Barbican Centre


Purple Hibiscus (2023-24) by Ibrahim Mahama is now officially unveiled at the Barbican Centre in London. Covering the building in huge handmade panels of bright purple fabric, the eye-catching installation explores the life cycles of textiles and the histories and cultures woven into them.


The Ghanaian artist’s monumental commission accompanies Unravel: The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art, an exhibition currently on view at the Barbican until May 26, 2024.


From a Stadium in Ghana to London’s Brutalist Landmark

Aerial in-progress photograph of Purple Hibiscus by Ibrahim Mahama, 2023-24, via Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, and White Cube


Named for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed 2003 novel of the same name, Purple Hibiscus is the latest installation by Ghanaian contemporary artist Ibrahim Mahama. It was created in collaboration with hundreds of craftspeople from local sewing collectives in the artist’s hometown of Tamale, Ghana. Purple Hibiscus drapes 2,000 square meters of brightly-colored, meticulously handwoven fabric across the stark lakeside facade of London’s Barbican Centre.


The installation’s striking shade, an unusually vibrant choice for Mahama, was selected to express allyship with marginalized communities. The purple fabric panels are so large that the artist rented out a football stadium in Tamale to serve as the project’s workspace. Their installation at the Barbican required a team of engineers to safely execute.


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Approximately 100 batakaris—robes traditionally worn in northern Ghana—were hand-embroidered onto each of the fabric panels. Many of these robes are well-worn and have been preserved by Ghanaian families for generations. The inclusion of the batakaris in Purple Hibiscus demonstrates the unique power of textiles to encapsulate the individual lives and community traditions of the people who used them.


Who Is Ibrahim Mahama?

Photograph of Ibrahim Mahama in Tamale, Ghana, 2022, by Carlos Idun-Tawiah, via ArtReview


Ibrahim Mahama is a contemporary artist best known for his installations. Born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana, Mahama currently lives and works in Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale. In 2019, he was the youngest artist featured in the Ghana Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.


At the root of Mahama’s artistic practice is his belief that art is for everyone—and that people who exist outside the confines of the traditional art establishment deserve opportunities to create and engage with art that takes up space. Mahama frequently collaborates with Ghanaian craftspeople, whose meticulous labor and storied communities are central themes in his work. He also founded the Red Clay Studio and Savannah Center for Contemporary Art in Tamale, which offer exhibitions, residencies, education, and other art opportunities.


Barbican Exhibition Details

Exhibition view of Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles and Art, photographed by Jo Underhill, via the Barbican Centre


Now on view at the Barbican, Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles and Art showcases the work of 50 international textile artists. Spanning multiple generations and diverse cultures, the exhibition tells captivating stories through the universally familiar and richly historical medium of fibers and threads. The pieces on view range from immersive fabric installations to intricate handheld objects.


Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles aims to grapple with complex global narratives of violence and exclusion, as well as hopeful tales of resilience and love. Described by The Times as “beautiful, curious, and unexpected,” the exhibition—including Ibrahim Mahama’s newly-installed Purple Hibiscus—is open at until May 26.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.