Barbican building wrapped in thousands of metres of fabric - Purple Hibiscus

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Video: A spectacular fabric artwork has been unveiled at the Barbican, wrapping the buildings at the lakeside terrace.

The Barbican Centre’s lakeside terrace has been enveloped in more than 2,000 square meters of fabric.

Purple Hibiscus, designed by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, accompanies the exhibition Unravel: The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art.

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Named after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2003 novel, Purple Hibiscus is handcrafted from bespoke Kente cloth, with approximately 130 batakaris, or Northern Ghanaian robes, embroidered to it.

Mahama said: “It’s like doing plastic surgery, but this time you require a soul that dwells within the body, which is immaterial to build on the physical material.”

The batakaris used in the installation were collected through exchange or barter from Northern Ghanaian communities.

“Collecting the individual smocks from communities can be quite challenging, but also opens up a portal of new formal aesthetics,” he said.

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Mahama, born in the Northern Ghanaian city of Tamale, used Tamale’s Alui Mahama sports stadium as the primary studio space to create Purple Hibiscus. Hundreds of craftspeople sewed the work by hand.

Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican, designed by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama.Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican, designed by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama.
Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican, designed by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama.

“The scale of the material forms needed some level of freedom, which the space gifted,” Mahama said of using the stadium.

Beyond collaborating with Tamale’s craftspeople, Mahama has opened three arts-related facilities in and near the city.

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This March Mahama won the inaugural Sam Gilliam Award, aimed at artists who made a significant contribution to art and for whom receiving the award would be transformative.

As part of the award he received $75,000 and the chance to present a public program at Dia Art Foundation.

Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican.Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican.
Purple Hibiscus at the Barbican.

Shanay Jhaveri, the Barbican’s head of visual arts, said: “At a time of increasing fracture and disharmony, Mahama, with this monumental site-specific artwork – the second in our newly launched commission series – will transform the Barbican’s iconic Lakeside.”

A Barbican spokesperson added that Mahama’s art piece engaged with local economies by collaborating with networks of women weavers and sewing collectives. They described Mahama’s artistic practice as being grounded in the democratic belief that art belongs to all.

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Additionally, the piece aims to resonate with how the former Cripplegate parish, in which the Barbican is located, was a centre for cloth trade and production.

“At the heart of Mahama's practice is his conviction that Ghanaians, and all those outside of the exclusive environs of the art market, should have the opportunity to engage with art,” the spokesperson said.

Unravel: The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art can be viewed until May 26, while Purple Hibiscus will remain on site until August 18.

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