Features

HAS IBRAHIM MAHAMA BECOME PART OF THE GROWING CANKER OF PLAGIARISM IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART?

Ibrahim Mahama Photo credit: Whiteworth Art Gallery

THE GROWING CANKER OF PLAGIARISM IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART – NO. 4

ARTIST OF FOCUS: IBRAHIM MAHAMA

BY RIKKI WEMEGA-KWAWU

It is the dream of every young African artist resident on the African continent to be discovered by the Mainstream Global Art World and have a major gallery representation in any of the art capitals of the world, London, Paris, New York, etc., just like the young, internationally renowned, maverick Ghanaian conceptual artist, Ibrahim Mahama. He has had a meteoric rise to fame and success since Okwui Enwezor (1963 – 2019), the venerable mega-curator of blessed memory, featured him in the 2015 Venice Biennale, dubbed, “All the Worlds Futures.” He was 27 at the time and was the youngest artist to have ever participated in the over-120 years of the Venice Biennale’s history. There has been no turning back for Ibrahim Mahama since. He has gone on to participate in Documenta 14 and had a successful reappearance at this year’s Venice Biennale, in Ghana’s first-ever pavilion, showing side-by-side with other global stalwarts and compatriots in the persons of El Anatsui, Lynette Yiadom Boakye and John Akomfrah. Ibrahim Mahama is currently represented by the White Cube Gallery in London.

I am proud that I was one of the first to have spotted Mahama’s fledgeling talent so early, and immediately confirmed the accolade, “Enfant Terrible of Ghanaian Contemporary Art,” on him. I used my Social Media wall to promote extensively his work, long before the global art spotlight picked him up. I instinctively knew right from the beginning that his work was destined for the world stage.

Just as I had so much faith in the potential of Mahama’s large-scale jute sheets fabricated from recycled cocoa bags he was draping on the façade of buildings, I knew right from the moment my eyes beheld another young Ghanaian artist, Peter Amoako’s old, discarded sewing machine installation at a solo exhibition he held in Takoradi in early 2017, that it was a masterpiece of an installation work and was certainly destined for the world stage.

Fig. 1. Peter Amoako, proudly posing with his old, discarded sewing machine installation, in his solo exhibition, “The Secret Behind My Strokes,” Art Exhibition, Takoradi Technical University, Takoradi Ghana, 2017.

Perhaps, I have the natural knack for spotting talents, or, should I say, good art. I personally took tons of photos of that installation (I will share some of the photos of this mesmerizing installation with you here). Amoako went on to have a couple of other shows, including performances with these sewing machines in other venues in Takoradi, outside the Takoradi Technical University campus, where the first exhibition was held. He always liberally splashed photos of his exhibitions on Facebook and other Social Media platforms to the admiration of his many fans.

Fig. 2. Peter Amoako, Installation view of his cluster of old sewing machines in his solo exhibition, “The Secret Behind My Strokes,” 2017, Art Exhibition Hall, Takoradi Technical Institute, Takoradi.

In private conversations with Amoako whenever he visited me, he would outline his lofty vision for his sewing machine installation and other work projects yet to be unveiled, describe the many things he wanted to do with them. They were fascinating and laudable, and I always gave him all the thumbs-up to go ahead with them. Stressing to him that those ideas did not have to remain calcified in the head, but had to be vented out, I always urged him on to create.

My attention has recently been drawn to the latest exhibition by Ibrahim Mahama, “Living Grains,” which just opened a few weeks ago, specifically, on Friday, October 25, 2019, at the Guiliani Foundation in Rome, Italy. In this exhibition, among other items on display, Mahama has an installation of old sewing machines. I was shocked and appalled to see this. It is significant to note that Amoako and Mahama are Facebook friends. Certainly, Mahama was privy to the work Amoako was doing with the sewing machines. Mahama is active on Social Media and cannot pretend not to have ever seen or encountered images of Amoako’s work online. It would be disingenuous for him to decline knowledge of Amoako’s old, discarded sewing machines

Fig. 3. Ibrahim Mahama; Installation view of his collection of old sewing machines in his solo exhibition, “Living Grains,” at the Guiliani Foundation, Rome, Italy, October 2019.

It is utterly disgusting and disorienting, therefore, for Ibrahim Mahama, leveraging on the global clout he has, to hijack – Yes, HIJACK, I can’t think of any more appropriate a word for Mahama’s despicable action – Peter Amoako’s work with old sewing machines mid-stream and run to the bigger market with it, creating the impression it is an original work from him. It is absolutely not. It is clearly a plagiarized work of art and Mahama must be ashamed of himself. He did not have to stoop so low to take a relatively unknown artist’s work and go show it in Europe, proudly as his work. It is clearly not his work. This is unfair and smacks of a lack of integrity as an artist, utter greed and bankruptcy of ideas on the part of Mahama, I am afraid. It is unethical and immoral, what he has done.

Fig. 4. Ibrahim Mahama’s collection of old sewing machines installed in his solo exhibition, “Living Grains,” at the Guiliani Foundation, Rome, Italy, October 2019.

Why did Mahama not allow Amoako’s work to fester, hopefully, to also be discovered by the mainstream art world, but greedily nipping it in the bud? Such dastardly, despicable acts of gross injustice of a privileged artist of global renown exploiting the work of a growing artist should not be countenanced one-bit by the art world, but be confronted squarely and condemned outright, irrespective of who is perpetrating the offence. A wrong is a wrong.

I do not care when Mahama started collecting old sewing machines. I reckon, however, the date on a poster of his show in Rome reads, 2014 – 2019, which presupposes, I guess, that his machines were collected between 2014 and 2019. Amoako’s maiden exhibition in Takoradi with the machines was in 2017. Given that, indeed, Mahama, was collecting these old sewing machines just about the same time that Amoako was, or, was perhaps even
collecting them long before Amoako, it is still untenable for him to go public with them, knowing very well that his global stature and eminence were going to totally eclipse Amoako’s humble efforts. A relative nonentity Amoako is, he, Mahama, obviously would be described as the originator of the sewing machine installation and Amoako, the copyist, if the latter is lucky to have his work also catch the attention of aficionados in the mainstream art world; while in reality, it is the other way around. Amoako’s work predates Mahama’s by, at least, two years, and it is important for this to be acknowledged globally. The world must know this.

Fig. 5. Ibrahim Mahama’s installation View of his old machines.
Fig. 6. Peter Amoako, Installation view of his old sewing machines.

Furthermore, I find it a little strange and amusing that Ibrahim Mahama’s Guiliani Foundation exhibition is captioned boldly with a time frame, 2014 – 2019, considering the fact that all previous exhibitions of his, which all displayed found objects, too, never stated or stressed for how long he had been collecting those objects or items in his exhibition announcements. Why is the paradigmatic time frame of such paramount material importance now, to warrant capturing banner headlines for his show? Does it not belie the artist’s previous knowledge of Amoako’s work, that he necessarily had to validate his own collection of old sewing machines, situating it within a certain time period, cognisant of the possible tongue-wagging and eyebrow-raising he knew his work was going to engender vis- à-vis Amoako’s old sewing machine installation? A time-frame, ingeniously derived, I surmise, with the earlier date preceding Amoako’s 2017 exhibition, naturally forecloses any adversarial contestation or challenges Mahama envisaged his old sewing machines may presage before Amoako’s; that, indeed, he was collecting the machines long before 2017, which was when Amoako out-doored his collection of old sewing machines. This time- framing in Mahama’s Rome exhibition announcement, 2014 – 2019, therefore, is pretentious and premeditated, aimed at slumping Amoako’s work.  Ironically, however, having followed the genesis of Amoako’s work, I venture to say, he was collecting these old sewing machines long, long before even 2010. However, because of financial constraints in acquiring them, it took him a long while to be able to gather enough for his exhibition in 2017. He is still avidly collecting them for other future projects.

Fig. 7. Close-up shot of some of Amoako’s old abandoned sewing machines in his 2017 solo exhibition.

Sociological meanings Mahama may ascribe to his work, does not, I reiterate, does not, also make it any different a work from Amoako’s. Art is, first and foremost, a visual thing. What lingers in the memory of visitors to an art show are what they saw, not all the stories and meanings, etc., attributed to the work on display. In this case, between Mahama and Amoako, what visitors to their shows in Rome and Takoradi, respectively, would carry home are images of a cluster of old sewing machines, not the meanings attached to the installations. This is what makes Ibrahim Mahama’s work a plagiarized art. We do not have to mince any words in describing it so. His action is dishonourable, exploitative and absolutely reprehensible.

I am grossly disappointed in Ibrahim Mahama, that he exercised no scruples but to stoop so low to take a friend and a colleague’s work, without the latter’s knowledge, and run to the big market with it. This unpalatable grave act of theft has left Amoako in a totally distraught state. No amount of explanation from Mahama, whether he was collecting the sewing machines long before Amoako, or what, would fly; it is untenable. He simply should not have done what he did. Amoako’s work prefigures his by far. Amoako’s work with the machines was just in its formative stages. Ibrahim Mahama should just have kept his hands completely off the sewing machines and allowed Amoako to develop his subject matter to the optimum, just as nobody contested, he Mahama when he started draping buildings with recycled cocoa sacks, which garnered him instant global attention. He cannot out of greed, want it all to himself. The old sewing machine, as a conceptual subject matter, is not a conventional, traditional medium for artistic expression, like oil and acrylic paint, for anybody to claim an inalienable right to. Amoako took precedence with his work with the sewing machines. It is an indisputable fact and it is well documented on Social Media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Any other person who comes after Amoako, using a collection of old sewing machines in an installation, must of necessity, acknowledge Amoako as the precursor or progenitor in the use of old sewing machines as an artistic medium. Failure to do this amounts to a gross act of plagiarism.  Originality is the hallmark of any artistic endeavor. More so, in conceptual art, the novelty of the idea being expounded is on an equal footing with the novelty of the object, or, non-object, being used by the artist to carry his/ her message.

The Ghanaian art world is totally shocked and displeased with Mahama’s action against Amoako. There is a lot of backbiting, gossiping and deriding already going on. It is, however, not in the typical nature of the Ghanaian to tell you right in the face when you are wrong but would certainly be gossiping behind you. This pussy-footing and hypocrisy certainly does not augur well for the positive growth of our nascent art industry, which is completely bereft of any critical art discourse, let alone a rigorous one, hence, has inadvertently created a field-day for wanton and brazen plagiarizing of one another’s original creations. An open critique of an artist’s work could easily be misconstrued as an attempt to destroy the artist and his/her work, and you could be erroneously perceived an enemy by the artist in question and his/her supporters. This culture of silence, even in the face of a naked injustice of one artist against another, as in the case at hand, should be broken.

Ibrahim Mahama should do the most honourable thing befitting of the gentleman he is. I entreat him to withdraw the sewing machines from his exhibition in Rome and render an unqualified apology to Peter Amoako, affectionately called Amoako Gh by his friends. That would be a bold act of honor, and I expect nothing less than that. Mahama’s work is already in the international public domain and I had no option but make my piquant critique also a public document.

RIKKI WEMEGA-KWAWU is an internationally renowned Ghanaian Painter and Installation Artist. He also loves to write on art, engaging in social and philosophical discourse. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, U.S.A. In 2008, he was an Adjunct Professor in Art at the New York University – Accra Campus, where he taught Post- Colonial Studio Practices. He lives and works in Takoradi, Ghana. This essay was written on November 18, 2019, at Effiakuma, Takoradi Ghana. Email: rikdee2000@gmail.com

Tags
Show More

25 Comments

  1. Dear Rikki Wemega-Kwawu,
    I think with this article you are doing just too much discredit to yourself considering your reputation as a critic and artist.
    There is just too much wrong with your article… starting from your self glorification about spotting talents to the arguments you really fail to make.
    As for the former, it is really your choice… I really do not think that an artist of your stature still needs that. But well, so be it.
    With regards to your arguments about plagiarism, and looking at the works of both artists, I personally fail to see the point you are making besides the fact that they are both using sewing machines. The conceptual premise of the artists’ works are miles apart, and even the forms they have chosen to work with differ in my opinion. The structural dispositions are different. So the accusation you are making is based on the simple fact that both artists use the same base material? Being the artist you are – one very interested in art history – I expect you to know that there is a long history of usage of sewing machines within installations. Unfortunately I do not have the time to give a lecture on this, but from the top of my head, I can name you 5 artists who have used sewing machines extensively in form and idea in their works. And if you look at all these works, there are formal overlaps.
    Which to say, you cannot accuse an artist using canvas as base material to paint on or wood/concrete to do a sculpture for plagiarism. I think that is utterly ridiculous, to say the least.
    But if you really have to write an article about plagiarism, please at least do some research and put the works in a larger context. Indeed, if I were mal-intentioned, I would say I see more plagiarism in Amoako’s work in relation to the work of Kounellis or Harsha. But I won’t do that because it is neither logically, conceptually nor aesthetically correct in this case, nor in the cases you put together.
    With your text you do not only do disservice to yourself, but also to Amoako, whose important work doesn’t actually need your rant nor the comparison to Mahama.
    Please have a look at these 5 works just off my head, and I will be happy to send you the names of 20 other artists that have worked with sewing machines.
    1. Jannis Kounellis Untitled (Sewing Machine) 2004 https://dailyartfair.com/events/article/1705/jannis-kounellis-cheim-read
    (min 5:18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W_2DbkBcu8)
    2. William Kentridge https://kentridge.liebieghaus.de/en/william-kentridge-o-sentimental-machine
    3. N S Harsha Nations http://sharjahart.org/sharjah-art-foundation/projects/nations
    4. Ala Younis – Nefertiti https://alayounis.art/Nefertiti
    5. Martin Messier Sewing Machine Orchestra https://vimeo.com/105480127

    That said, I will like to point out to the fact that Mahama’s usage of sewing machines is closely tied to his usage of shoe repair boxes, black boards, train seats, hospital stretchers, fish nets sacks of all kinds etc that he has been collecting for many years in his installations around the world. Now, why shouldn’t he use sewing machines? Just because another artist has used that before? Amoako is hardly the first artist to do this either.
    What kind of logic is that? And you go ahead to question the timeline he makes for a recent exhibition with the only argument that he didn’t do that before therefore he is doing that now to hide the plagiarism? Rikki I have read much more solid things from you… This article of yours does disservice to your reputation. I would be glad to hear better arguments from you that that which you have given so far.

    1. Wow… well written response. You really have done your research. I was thinking the same, is only one artist entitled to use a particular medium? What exactly is art plagiarism in the scope of what has been described here?

  2. After reading the text I do not see how Rikki Wemega-Kwawu himself escapes the trap of self-glorification as he accuses another of. Given as his concern is to offer a critical position on his observations, this article does little in that direction and is actually replete with self-defeating statements. I believe Rikki Wemega-Kwawu missed an opportunity to make a compelling case even in the context of plagiarism and the hastiness and presumptiveness have marred what could have been an interesting text. First of all the conversation on plagiarism in the field of art is a by-gone concern: it is obsolete, unless one is dealing with 19th to early 20th century Euro-American issues of ‘the artist as genius’ or autonomy or originality or purity or any other things as such (It is clear that the author is stuck in this modernist paradigm of art and has yet to enter 21st century domains when he claims that “Originality is the hallmark of any artistic endeavor.” This is simply not true.) We all know that originality, like any other modernist correlate, is a myth. The better thing to do is to engage each artist based on their interests, claims, propositions, material choices, formal decisions, etc and immanently interrogate them according to what the artist desires out of or for their work. Secondly how does the author reconcile the absolute contradiction in the text when he claims that “the old sewing machine, as a conceptual subject matter, is not a conventional, traditional medium for artistic expression, like oil and acrylic paint, for anybody to claim an inalienable right to.” (this statement by Mr. Wemega-Kwawu actually affirms the point that ‘originality’, in the sense he is arguing, is a myth) and then proceeds to undermine his own statement that “Any other person who comes after Amoako, using a collection of old sewing machines in an installation, must of necessity, acknowledge Amoako as the precursor or progenitor in the use of old sewing machines as an artistic medium.” Even if we take this to to be true, does it also apply to Mr. Amoako to do same for those who used the sewing machines before him? If no-one can claim “inalienable right to” the sewing machines then what is the point of writing this text in the first place accusing another artist of ‘plagiarism’? Thirdly, Mr. Wemega-Kwawu seems to be concerned only for the mainstream art market and not for art as such. When he says that “It is the dream of every young African artist resident on the African continent to be discovered by the Mainstream Global Art World and have a major gallery representation in any of the art capitals of the world, London, Paris, New York, etc.,”. This claim would have been true a century or two ago. But not necessarily so these days. This is the whole point of a globalized art world. One can conveniently sustain a practice in Takoradi, where the author is based in Ghana, Kinshasa, and/or anywhere else on the planet and still be able to touch the international culture of art without necessarily having to move a step into the Western world. It should also not be a problem for one to want to go and practice anywhere for that matter, but the point is that since the late 1970s (from the postmodern era entering in the so-called contemporary era) there has been a decentering (at least in principle) of the art world from what used to be the so-called centers of Paris, Tokyo, New York, Berlin, etc. The author betrays his belief in these hegemonies. One would be mindful of such generalizations if their aim is to offer critical thought. To posit a copy, is to imply an original and vice versa. In this context, the author could have complicated his own assumptions by analyzing a few things: this object, the sewing machine, is industrially manufactured. Neither Mahama nor Amoako actually makes them. They both collect them. It would have been more purposeful discussing their motivations, interests and points of departure from what seems to be same ‘material’ rather than the easy position of morally accusing one of copying the other. These objects are available all around us. They signify a complex political economic and geopolitical condition. Does the writer care that Mahama’s, for example, are of a particular brand or manufacturer? Does he care that Mahama’s constellation of sewing machines might be equipped with synchronized automated functions producing extra affects such as sounds, autonomous movement and so on? Does the writer care that Amoako’s compositions in his 2017 exhibition is formally different from Mahama’s own in his recent exhibition? It would have been worth discussing these and more rather than conveniently side-stepping and engaging in a name-calling tirade in the name of criticality. As Bonaventure has already said, if we take the Mr. Wemega-Kwawu’s own argument seriously then it would equally be easy to smear Mr. Amoako’s work and artistic decisions simply because he has used a material he did not manufacture. And this is utterly ridiculous. If it is art we care about, let us make our discussions wit that focus.

  3. Hey there I am so delighted I found your weblog,I really found you by accident, while
    I wass searching on Google for something else, Regardless
    I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a incredile post and a all
    round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don’t have time to ggo through it all at tthe moment but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, sso when I have time I will be bacdk to rewad much more, Please do keep up the awesome b.

  4. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering
    if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  5. Greetings from Colorado! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your website
    on my iphone during lunch break. I love the information you
    present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get
    home. I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful blog!

  6. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing
    a blog post or vice-versa? My site addresses a lot of the same
    topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you happen to be interested feel free to
    shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you!
    Wonderful blog by the way!

  7. For readers who may not know Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh, two contributors on this thread, they are co-curators with others in the ongoing Bamako Encounters, the photo festival, which recently opened in Bamako, Mali. Both Bonaventure and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh (popularly called, IUB) are some of Ibrahim Mahama’s best friends. They’re both my friends as well, but closer, of course, to Ibrahim Mahama. Unfortunately, I sense an orchestrated plan from them, and others who may join the fray later, to launch a vitriolic attack on my person, portraying me as self-glorifying and rubbishing my article, without addressing its substantive issue. I initially was not going to waste any time responding to this kind of frivolous, ill-intended responses from them, as I knew where they were coming from. I have, however, been receiving numerous calls from all over that I should respond to them, that the audience is anxiously waiting to hear from me. So, finally, I’ve given in to the pressure and I am going to respond to both Bonaventure and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh, seperately.

    Before my response, I would like to give a little background to my article. I was hoping to have had this article published a few weeks ago by a well-known art journal in Europe. I wanted it out early because I was demanding that Mahama withdrew his machine works completely from his exhibition at the Giuliani Foundation in Rome, and render an unqualified apology to Peter Amoako, whose work I believed he had plagiarized. The journal I approached was so enthusiastic about publishing the article and deployed three of their best journalists to work on it. They came to the consensus that they would want to publish the article as an open letter, therefore, decided to seek a response to my paper from both Amoako and Ibrahim Mahama, which I readily agreed to, because I knew I was not up to anything untoward. Amoako quickly responded to them. I was copied Amoako’s response. Apparently, Ibrahim Mahama treated my article which such vicious contempt and never bothered to respond to the journal.

    Suddenly, powerful, invisible forces came into play and managed to squash the release of my article, to my chagrin. I was a step ahead of them, nevertheless. Whatever those forces were, I couldn’t be outsmarted, and managed to have it published at the eleventh hour by ArtPoint. Ibrahim Mahama’s exhibition unfortunately ends on December 21, 2019, that is, tomorrow. At least, I was able get the article published in the niche of time. Thank you so much, ArtPoint!

    It would interest the audience to know that I subjected my essay to rigorous critical review by most of Ghana’s leading artists, scholars from our universities as well as universities overseas, and non-artists as well. I did not want to be accused of any bias. I was overly convinced about what I was putting fort. You would be surprised to know that every single one of the reviewers were unanimous in the decision that the article be publicized as widely as possible. Nobody suggested any alteration to any part of the article. Nobody told me I was glorifying myself, therefore, I should eshew the portion of the essay where I made reference to my relationship with Ibrahim Mahama and Amoako, which is now being misconstrued. All my readers were seasoned scholars and artists who follow the Ghanaian art scene so closely. I had as many as twenty reviewers.

    It would further interest the audience to know that Ibrahim Mahama was recently in Bamako with Bonaventure Soh and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh. That was just about the time the journal in Europe was reaching out to Mahama for a response to my article. I believe Mahama and his coterie of friends poured over my article and after much deliberation arrived at stragies to attack my person and rubbish the article. It is so obvious from Bonaventure and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh’s responses to this publication.

    Now, I will come to my responses to Bonaventure and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh. I want everybody to know I am not fighting a turf war. I only expressed my opinion about what I felt so strongly about. If Bonaventure and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh want to debate me, let us have a healthy intellectual discourse, and eshew attacks on my person. Everybody who knows me personally, including Ibrahim Mahama and Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh, knows I am a very humble person; I do not carry any chip on my shoulders. The Ghanaian art world will attest to that.

  8. @ Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung: Hi, Bonaventure! I am afraid, in your haste to defend our brother, Ibrahim Mahama, the whole import of my article was lost on you. I don’t think you understood it properly.

    You and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh are esteemed curators and intellectuals and I have a lot of respect for you, but to be responding to my article in the sloppy way you have done sadly makes a mockery of yourselves and your supposedly intellectual prowesses.

    Firstly, it was petty for both of you to stray from the more substantive issue at stake to be suggesting that I was indulging in self-glorification. You misconstrued that early passage in the text in which I place myself in relation to Ibrahim Mahama and Peter Amoako. What you erroneously interpreted as self-adulation was to set the premise for my essay, to let readers and the world know that I did not harbor any animosity towards Ibrahim Mahama, to be critiquing him and condemning him for his actions. If I had any hatred towards him, I would never have used my wall on Facebook to be promoting his work. Rigorous art criticism in our part of the world are usually misconstrued to be an attempt to attack an artist and destroy his life and career. It was very necessary to lay that premise for my essay. I consider Ibrahim Mahama a friend and he is still a friend to me even after this my piquant criticism of him and his work. I would meet Ibrahim Mahama, shake hands with him and hug him.

    My upbringing and disposition do not allow me to countenance any form of injustice, even if it is coming from a close friend. It would be instructive to learn that in a phone conversation I had earlier this year with our senior brother and friend, Atta Kwami, he rightly stated that I (Rikki) could easily criticize and chastise my friends. I asked him if he really meant it, and he said, yes. We laughed over it. Indeed, if you are my friend and have stepped wrongly, I won’t shield you because you are a friend, I would let you know you stepped wrongly.

    Ibrahim had acted wrongly towards his own friend, colleague and compatriot, Peter Amoako, and that was what I was drawing the whole world’s attention to, that it was an indefensible, despicable act and it needed to be condemned outright without mincing any words.

    My essay was not just about wrongful appropriation, but equally important, was it about respect between artists, power, arrogance and market forces. I’ll break it down for you to understand.

    Thanks for sharing all those links to artists who work or have done work with sewing machines. Yes, I am fully aware of artists out there who have worked with sewing machines. At least, I am very conversant with Jannis Kounelis’ work, not so much the others. I appreciate you introducing me to the work of the other artists. Even with my vast knowledge of art history and extensive art library, I must admit, I don’t know of all these people, apart from Kentridge and Kounellis. We live in artistic backwaters here in Africa and in spite of the presence of the internet, there is still scanty information about what goes on in the art world in Europe, America and Asia. There is a dearth of art literature – art history books, art journals and magazines. I can bet my last bottom penny that under the difficult circumstances under which artists operate in our part of the world, over 99.99% of Ghanaian artists in Ghana do not know of all these artists who have worked with sewing machines. Amoako, I know, does not know of all these artists.

    Yes, I know each artist’s work is different conceptually and in aesthetic presentation. Those were the very things I carefully debunked in my essay, arguing that they were irrelevant in the case at hand. I knew it was going to come up in any defense of Mahama’s actions.

    I want you to take a critical look at all the sewing machines in the images of the links you provided in your submission, and compare them to the machines in Mahama and Amoako’s installations. They are all new-looking, or freshly painted machines. They contrast drastically with the rusticity of Amoako and Mahama’s machines.

    The crux of the issue at stake, contrary to your assertion, is not simply about sewing machines as object, which anybody at all could have access to and use for their art work. it is about found, old, abandoned, sewing machines in a state of disrepair or dysfunctionality, some even completely broken. It is the rusticity of these old, found sewing machines which are of interest here, and offer great aesthetic appeal.

    If it is simply about sewing machines as object, why would a major museum in Europe invite an African artist from Africa to come and mount a vast installation of a conglomeration of sewing machines? It is preposterous and illogical. The machines are manufactured in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.A.. We do not manufacture machines here in Africa. So, what is the sense or logic in shipping so many machines from here in Africa, from the shores of Ghana, in our case, to show in a Museum in Europe, in Rome, Italy, specifically, which could likely be a top manufacturer of sewing machines. That would be sending coal to Newcastle, isn’t it? Then, the artist might just as well buy the machines off the European market.

    The sewing machines at the heart of this case are not new, glittering machines as you have them in the images of your links, they are found, old, abandoned, and dysfunctional machines. Amoako took precedence in 2017 in showing a large collection of such discarded, dysfunctional old sewing machines. It is an indisputable fact, which can be verified by all. He had gone on to have multiple shows of these machines, even performances with them. He has been adding onto his collection every now and then to expand his repertoire.

    I want you to reflect on why Mahama never showed his collection of old, decaying sewing machines here in Ghana before proceeding to outdoor them in Europe. It would have met with uproar and open rejection. The Ghanaian art world would have seen his work as a mere copy of Amoako’s, which, indeed, it is, irrespective of the narratives and conceptual framework behind them or the different aesthetic forms of display.

    Mahama surreptitiously carrying these old, decaying found machines all the way from Ghana to Rome to show as his work is what is problematic here, which you are failing to see. The novelty of Mahama’s work before a global audience is not because of it being an Installation of mere sewing machines as object, which Europe has seen in exhibitions before, as you have shown me with your links. It is not in the conceptual narrative of the machines. The novelty of his work is in the aesthetic rusticity, of these old decaying, dysfunctional machines. And this is what, I reiterate here, is clearly not his work. It is plagiarized from Amoako.

  9. @ Bonaventure Soh (Cont.. ): I still insist here that found, old, decaying sewing machines are not conventional, traditional art materials, like oil or acrylic paint for anybody to claim an inalienable right to. It is ridiculous in your submission to even attempt to compare canvas for painting to sewing machines. Canvas is centuries old as an artistic support. When did Jannis Kounellis create his first collage work with a sewing machine? Some sixty or seventy years ago, I guess.

    If Amoako was of an equal stature globally as Mahama, it would have been a different ball game. It would not have mattered so much Mahama going to show these old, decaying machines, which clearly were a novel discovery of Amoako here in Ghana. But Mahama’s global clout and eminence instantly eclipses Amoako’s humble efforts as soon as Mahama is the first to reach the big market with his conglomeration of decaying, old sewing machines. Mahama would be described as the originator of installations with a cluster of found old, decaying sewing machines by the art officialdom, and should Amoako someday also get the opportunity to show his work abroad, he Amoako would be called the imitator or copier of Mahama. This is about the snag of the whole issue. This, in summary, is what my whole essay is about. Mahama’s action of being the first of the two to rush to the big market with these decaying old machines becomes an obvious abuse of power by Mahama. It becomes an exploitation of the work of a lesser known, poor, hustling, disadvantaged artist.

    When Mahama started draping buildings with his jute sacks like Christo, nobody offered him any contestation by running abroad to also be draping buildings with jute sacks. We allowed his work to fester. Christo was already so big, and Mahama was no way a competition to him. It was rather admirable for a young African artist to work on such an ambitious scale as the Master. But assuming that after his initial humble efforts with draperies here in Ghana, a global Ghanaian Master like El Anatsui had picked the concept of the jute sack drapery and run to Europe or America and showed that as his work, there was no way Ibrahim Mahama would have been the Ibrahim Mahama of today. El Anatsui’s global stature and eminence would have totally slumped he Mahama, and he would have been completely forgotten by history by now.

    This is the crux of the whole matter. Artists better placed than their disadvantaged colleagues should not hijack the work of the latter and run away to the big market with it. It is exploitative and despicable. It is not about material which can be used by everybody, therefore, you leverage your power and international connections and take your struggling colleague’s work and hit the big market with it as your work. This is immoral and must be condemned. This is what Mahama principally is guilty of.

    Charles Okereke is a discerning reader and quite understood the import of my article, while you and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh were just busy beating about the bush, and dropping art jargons.

    You can go back and carefully re-read my essay, and read in-between the lines. Put aside your friendship to Ibrahim Mahama, and read without any colored lenses, in fact, without any prejudice, and you would at the end of the day come to see eye to eye with me.

    Thank you very much!

  10. ROGER DENSON, COMMENTING ON THE ABOVE POST; JULY 4, 2018:

    “I’d heard the rumor before that a woman really made “Duchamp’s” Fountain, 1917, but as it had no scholarship behind it at the time, it was hard to embrace enthusiastically. I’m going to have to read the evidence. But Duchamp still has Bicycle Wheel, 1913, and Bottle Rack, 1914, to his credit, both preceding the 1917 Fountain. Even if Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is the maker, Duchamp still precedes her in the creation and naming of the Readymade. It just so happens that Fountain is the far more potent condemnation of the art masterpieces that failed to tame the savagery of civilization. Thanks to Caroline J. Nye for the article.”

  11. THE ARTNEWSPAPER
    NOV. 5, 2014:

    “Evidence that Marcel Duchamp may have stolen his most famous work, Fountain, from a woman poet has been in the public domain for many years. But the art world as a whole—museums, academia and the market—has persistently refused to acknowledge this fact. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is the latest eminent body to bury its head in the sand. It has just published a new edition of Calvin Tomkins’s 1996 life of Duchamp, updated by its author. Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, praises Tomkins in her introduction for his “thorough research”. But Tomkins avoids addressing the implications of the question marks over the origins of the work that Duchamp himself raised in 1917.”

  12. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven skabte Fontainen, ikke Duchamp. Det her er fuldstændig syret. Fontainen er det største ikoniske omdrejningspunkt for avantgardekunstens udvikling, fordi Fontainen var det allerførste værk, der i bogstaveligeste forstand tog pis på kunstinstitutionen som institution og efterlod det store rungende spørgsmål: Hvem og hvad bestemmer, hvad der er kunst? Det rungende ironiske svar er åbenbart : Mænd.
    Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven er blevet skrevet ud af kunsthistorien. Lad os skrive hende ind igen.

    “The Iconic Urinal & Work of Art, “Fountain,” Wasn’t Created by Marcel Duchamp But by the Pioneering Dada Artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

    Von Freytag-Loringhoven also deserves the credit for one of the most groundbreaking art objects to ever appear in a gallery: Fountain, the urinal signed “R. Mutt” that Marcel Duchamp claimed as his own and which has made him a legend in the history of art. The story, I imagine, might seem depressingly familiar to every woman who has ever had a male boss publish her work with his name on it. Even more frustratingly, the “glaring truth has been known for some time in the art world,” according to the blog of art magazine See All This. Yet, “each time it has to be acknowledged, it is met with indifference and silence.”

    The truth first emerged in a letter from Duchamp to his sister—discovered in 1982 and dated April 11th, 1917, a few days before the exhibit in which Fountain first appeared—in which he “wrote that a female friend using a male alias had sent it in for the New York exhibition.” The name, “Richard Mutt,” was a pseudonym chosen by Freytag-Loringhoven, who was living in Philadelphia at the time and whom Duchamp knew well, once pronouncing that “she is not a Futurist. She is the future.” (See her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, above, in a 1920 photograph by Charles Sheeler.)

    Why did she never claim Fountain as her own? “She never had the chance,” notes See All This. The urinal was rejected by the exhibition organizers (Duchamp resigned from their board in protest), and it was probably, subsequently thrown away; nothing remained but a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Von Freytag-Loringhoven died ten years later in 1927.

    It was only in 1935 that surrealist André Breton brought attention back to Fountain, attributing it to Duchamp, who accepted authorship and began to commission replicas. The 1917 piece “was destined to become one of the most iconic works of modern art. In 2004, some five hundred artists and art experts heralded Fountain as the most influential piece of modern art, even leaving Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon behind.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close