Ghanaian Artist Ibrahim Mahama Wins Inaugural Sam Gilliam Award

Ibrahim Mahama in 2022 Photo © Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama has been awarded the inaugural Sam Gilliam Award, a prestigious honor presented jointly by the Dia Art Foundation and the Sam Gilliam Foundation. This award, established in 2023 to recognize artists who have made significant contributions across various mediums, includes a $75,000 cash prize along with a public program set to take place at a Dia location in the fall of 2024.

Mahama, renowned for his large-scale textile and found-object installations, is celebrated for repurposing materials to provoke contemplation on the social implications of everyday objects, while emphasizing the importance of community collaboration.

Expressing his gratitude, Mahama stated, “I was first introduced to Gilliam’s important work as a student by my mentor Kąrî’kạchä Seid’ou, and it has been greatly influential to me ever since. The most important aspect of any community is to share their many gifts, even if they are born out of precarity, for within that point do we expand freedom to all life forms.”

Mahama’s selection for the award was made by a distinguished jury comprising prominent figures from the art world, including Gilliam’s widow and president of his foundation, Annie Gawlak. The jury highlighted Mahama’s evolving artistic endeavors, particularly noting the increasing ambition in scale and complexity of his work, as well as his community-oriented approach which involves extensive collaborations with artisans in his native Ghana.

Dia director Jessica Morgan praised Mahama’s commitment to collaboration, stating, “Mahama champions collaboration in his work; just as he gives renewed purpose to the materials he collects and recycles into artworks, he revitalizes his communities by turning castoff structures into institutions for convening, learning, art-making, and collective growth. This award honors both sides of his sophisticated practice.”

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Ibrahim Mahama, installation view of TRANSFER(S‘ at Kunsthalle Osnabrück in Germany, 2023. © the artist. Photo by Friso Gentsch/Lucie Marsmann/Angela von Brill. Courtesy of the Dia Art Foundation and the Sam Gilliam Foundation.

Mahama’s artistic journey has seen him exhibit across the globe, with recent showcases including the Desert X AlUla in Saudi Arabia, the Sharjah Biennial, and the Venice Architecture Biennale. His upcoming commission at London’s Barbican Centre further underscores his international acclaim and influence within the contemporary art scene.

The Sam Gilliam Award, established to commemorate the legacy of the late artist Sam Gilliam, underscores Dia’s commitment to supporting artists whose work resonates deeply with societal and cultural narratives. Through this recognition, Mahama’s impactful contributions to the art world are celebrated, affirming his status as a visionary artist shaping dialogues on community, collaboration, and artistic expression.

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