Ibrahim Mahama’s “Purple Hibiscus” to Transform Barbican’s Lakeside Terrace with 2,000 Sqm of Bespoke Woven Cloth

Purple Hibiscus 2023-24. Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London and White Cube.

The Barbican has announced a new commission by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, set to debut in April 2024. Titled “Purple Hibiscus,” the site-specific work will adorn the iconic Lakeside Terrace of the Barbican Centre, enveloping approximately 2,000 square meters of the brutalist complex’s concrete exterior in bespoke woven cloth.

This large-scale public commission, Mahama’s first in the UK, draws its name from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2003 novel “Purple Hibiscus.” The installation is a collaboration with hundreds of craftspeople from Tamale, Ghana, where the colossal panels of pink and purple fabric have been meticulously woven, sewn, and embroidered by hand.

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Ibrahim Mahama, Purple Hibiscus (2023–24). Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London, and White Cube.

Mahama’s previous works, including the use of jute sacks to cover public buildings, have made powerful statements about global commerce and societal narratives. “Purple Hibiscus” takes a different approach, with panels adorned with around 100 ‘batakaris’—robes worn by Ghanaian kings. Sourced from villages across Ghana, these robes serve as a powerful symbol memorializing the lives, lineage, and power of those who once wore them.

The Barbican highlighted Mahama’s choice of pink and purple colors as “an expression of allyship with marginalized communities.” This poignant decision comes in the wake of a controversial bill in Ghana’s parliament last year, which sought to criminalize LGBT+ sex, ban gay marriage, and impose prison terms on advocates for LGBT+ rights.

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Ibrahim Mahama, Purple Hibiscus (2023–24). Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London, and White Cube.

Shanay Jhaveri, Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican, expressed the significance of “Purple Hibiscus” at a time of societal fracture, stating, “Mahama, with this monumental site-specific artwork, will transform the Barbican’s iconic Lakeside into a site and space for the commemoration of community, intergenerational memory, and solidarity.”

The artwork’s connection to the Barbican’s location, historically tied to the production and sale of cloth in the Cripplegate parish, adds another layer to its narrative. The announcement coincides with the Barbican Art Gallery’s exhibition, “Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art,” featuring works by various artists, including Sheila Hicks, Teresa Margolles, Harmony Hammond, Mrinalini Mukherjee, and Cecilia Vicuña.

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Ibrahim Mahama, Purple Hibiscus (2023–24). Courtesy Ibrahim Mahama, Red Clay Tamale, Barbican Centre, London, and White Cube.

“Purple Hibiscus” is expected to captivate audiences from April to August 2024, offering a visually striking and thought-provoking experience in the heart of London.

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