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Purple Hibiscus: Exhibition Guide

People weave fabric on the ground of a football stadium

Ibrahim Mahama's new commission envelops the building’s iconic concrete walls with approximately 2000 square metres of bespoke cloth, woven by hand by hundreds of craftspeople around Ghana. 

Purple Hibiscus, named after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eponymous 2003 novel, is an ambitious new commission by Ibrahim Mahama, 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 are 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. 

The commission is part of Unravel: The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art, open at Barbican Art Gallery on Level 3 until 26 May 2024.

The commission has been made possible by Tia Collection with Associate Sponsor: Culture Mile BID. Additional generous support from The Ampersand Foundation and The African Arts Trust

Tia Collection
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About the artist

ibrahim mahama stands in front of barbican lakeside terrace

Ibrahim Mahama (b.1987)

Ibrahim Mahama was born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana. He lives and works in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale.

His creative practice is grounded in the democratic belief that art belongs to all. Fearless when it comes to scope and scale, his works claim space, demand questions and enquiry, but also reflect solidarity with the craftspeople, weavers and makers in Ghana with whom he collaborates. 

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. 

Committed to institution building, his Red Clay Studio and Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale, Ghana, provide social infrastructure for arts education, exhibition making and residencies. 


ibrahim mahama stands in front of barbican wall

Ibrahim Mahama on making Purple Hibiscus

We asked the artist behind the work where his inspiration came from, how his collaborative practice works, and why he strayed away from the usual earthy tones of previous work to something so bright and vibrant.

See how the fabric was made

Watch footage of the making of Purple Hibiscus in Tamale where hundreds of craftspeople around Ghana wove the fabric by hand.

Courtesy of Ibrahim Mahama. Filming by OBL Studios, Tamale, Ernest Sackitey and Red Clay, Tamale.

Making the fabric

people sit inside a stadium sewing fabric for ibrahim mahama's purple hibiscus

The beginning of Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus comprises vast textile pieces that are hand-sewn from strips of woven fabric to a precise plan to fit the outside of our building. The pieces are so large that, on days when matches weren’t taking place, the artist rented out the Tamale football stadium so the work could be spread out on the floor as it was sewn by hundreds of women from local sewing collectives. 

The communities Mahama lives and works in are central to his practice, and his art celebrates the value of human labour. For the Barbican commission, he collaborated with Tamale weavers and sewing collectives to make the material that adorns the Lakeside buildings.


riggers on top of the lakeside terrace attach fabric to the building

Wrapping the Lakeside Terrace

Made up of around 2km of fabric, the huge artwork weighs a total of 20 tonnes. To hang such an enormous work from our Grade II listed building involved considerable engineering experience. It also needs to be able to withstand wind and keep noise to a minimum. 

Buro Happold, the engineers who are working on the Barbican renewal project, are behind the installation of Purple Hibiscus.

The enormous fabrics were made to a cutting pattern and hung using a system of straps, ratchets and weights. They have been fitted closely to the building in order to avoid issues around noise and wind.

Barbican Lakeside Terrace