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Showcasing Democracy through Public Art

The new UMMA exhibition titled “In Between the World of Dreams” by the artist Ibrahim Mahama and curated by LSA Institute for the Humanities’ lead curator Amanda Krugliak is an outstanding example of the power of outdoor public art.

Showcasing Democracy Through Public Art

Written by Kaeli Brennan

Photography by Hollister/Young, Michigan-Imaging

During this difficult time the need to be creative has become critical to the success of museums and galleries. The new UMMA exhibition titled “In Between the World of Dreams” by the artist Ibrahim Mahama and curated by LSA Institute for the Humanities’ lead curator Amanda Krugliak is an outstanding example of the power of outdoor public art. The exterior of UMMA was wrapped in decommissioned jute bags from the artist’s home country of Ghana over the bright neon title hanging in the glass walled Stenn Gallery below. The neon lights allow this exhibition to be seen from a distance and play off the bright lights on State Street. 

The exhibition is eye-catching and draws attention to the museum, which is essential now that UMMA has opened an Ann Arbor City Clerk Satellite office. More importantly the themes of the exhibition align with the institutional and community values to engage in our democratic system. Mahama’s vision allows spectaters to gain a deeper understanding of the labor that is so essential to the systemic hierarchies that govern our world. The jute bags are sown together but will fall apart just as our systems do unless people actively repair and mend them. The positioning of this exhibition directly above the glass gallery where voting registration now occurs draws an inevitable comparison.

Ibrahim Mahama aims to make the labor visible by showcasing the very fabric that contains the goods traded such as rice, beans, and charcoal.

They exemplify each individual that has aided in the trade cycle as well as our continued reliance on the exploitation found within these trade systems that have existed since Dutch colonialism. They carry with them a history of racism exemplified by their origins in slave trade. Mahama has shown his work extensively throughout the United States and Europe and many see him as an educator in a sense.

Mahama urges people to grow in awareness and actively create change through his extremely powerful art forcing spectateurs to reexamine the world around them. This exhibition is intended to stand out from the monumentality of the institutional structure and space that it covers showcasing the impact that colonialism had and continues to have. 

A key quote from the exhibition arts curator Amanda Krugliak is, “Perhaps generations emerging from crisis can learn from the ghosts of the past and generate entirely new systems, not motivated by profit or self-interest, but by a deep commitment to the hard work ahead, our willingness to do it, and to the mutual space for dreams.”

This quote wonderfully applies to UMMA's commitment to democracy as well. By opening an Ann Arbor City Clerk Satellite office, UMMA is a pioneer in many ways. The museum is taking steps to become an active voice in the world and encouraging many of us to do the same. Ibraham Mahama’s art as represented by the “In Between the World of Dreams” exhibition furthers this new message.

You can tune in to hear more from the artist with the Penny Stamps Speaker Series with Ibrahim Mahama at 8pm on October 23rd by visiting http://pennystampsevents.org/.

Kaeli Brennan is a junior studying Economics and Art History at the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is particularly interested in the intersection of art and business. Her passion for the arts has led her to get involved at UMMA, where she aims to strengthen the connection between the museum and the student body and create a more open dialogue.

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