The Barbican Art Centre frontage will be covered in a gigantic sheet of purple fabric this year as part of a monumental outdoor art installation.
Created by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, the multi-coloured purple-themed artwork is being created in collaboration with hundreds of craftspeople from Tamale in Ghana. The work has been woven and then sewn by hand to produce colossal panels of pink and purple fabric that will be fitted to the brutalist planes of the Barbican’s Lakeside façade.
Embroidered onto the cloth are approximately 100 ‘batakaris’ – robes worn by Northern Ghanaian royals and ordinary people – which Mahama has collected through a process of exchange and barter from numerous communities across Northern Ghana.
These precious textiles, often saved by families over generations, tucked away in wardrobes or stored below beds, carry the imprints of the lives, lineage and power of the figures they once clothed. Worn, degraded and bearing traces of years of use, these smocks are testaments to the endurance of traditional belief systems, and the continued relevance of intergenerational knowledge. Incorporating these smocks into the commission carries forward Mahama’s deep interest in the life cycles of textiles and what can be learnt from the historical memories embedded within them.
Transported to the Barbican’s Lakeside Terrace, Mahama’s monumental commission will gain a new resonance as the Barbican Centre stands on the former Cripplegate parish, a centre for the ‘rag trade’ in London.
The huge fabric covering the Barbican building will be unveiled on 10th April and will be in situ until August 2024.