25 APRIL 2024 – 2 JUNE 2024

I have always believed that living in and being from Ghana should not be a reason to remain stuck, or not to make an impact. I have never created art from a selfish, self-absorbed place, but from a place of keenness and urgency to contribute positively to my community now and in the future by reflecting their realities and giving them hope.-Abdur Rahman Muhammad

On view from 25 April 2024 – 2 June 2024, Abdur Rahman Muhammad synthesizes national history, observations of contemporary life and inspiration from the lyrical finesse of rap in order to create a visual dialogue, inviting viewers to engage with the layered chronicles of migration, disillusionment, and hope embedded within each stroke and texture.

Foregoing popular sentiment to Japa (a pidgin slang word borrowed from the Nigerian Yoruba language meaning “to escape or flee a situation, typically in a hasty manner”), Muhammad chooses to contend with the burdens of life in Ghana, transmuting these hardships and the exasperation of Ghanaian youth into a stimulus for his practice. He confronts complex social issues in Ghana today, including unemployment, limited skills development from an under-performing education system, poverty and debt, and disenchantment with the government.

In The Allegory of a Seeker, the artist draws inspiration from the lived experiences of those around him, capturing their woes, and infusing them into the characters in his work. The seekers are real-life, hard-working individuals with an active sense of purpose despite the less-than-ideal circumstances in which they find themselves. While the dejection is depicted in their expressions, the inertia of their daily lives does not extinguish their dreams for pastures they imagine to be greener than their own. This is reflected in his bold use of colour and palette.

Primarily working within figurativism, Muhammad uses oil pigments and employs the impasto technique in his painting process to imbue his characters with texture and depth. This approach serves as a visual metaphor, symbolizing the complexities embedded within his narratives. In contrast, background elements in his paintings remain deliberately flat, creating a dynamic interplay of visual dimensions that mirror the nuanced layers of the stories he explores. Influenced also by the insightful storytelling abilities of musicians, poets and rappers who skillfully navigate critical matters using astute wordplay, his works seek to mirror this weaving of artistry and social commentary.

The ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag motif bridges the gap between past and present for Muhammad. In 1983, Nigerian President Shehu Shagari ordered the expulsion of a large number of undocumented migrants, many of them Ghanaian. These migrants used the cheap, readily available bags to pack their belongings during the forced exodus. The name “Ghana Must Go” emerged then, reflecting the xenophobic sentiment behind the expulsions. During this time, the bag gained a negative undertone of illegal migration and unsavoury conditions, but has since transcended these origins to become a totem of resilience, and is highlighted as such in Muhammad’s work.

By manipulating the colours of the bags in his work from the readily available mundane red and blue to rich hues of burnt oranges, deep violets, maroon reds, and emerald greens, Muhammad speaks to the power of imagining a world beyond what is presently known.

As he navigates his ruminations of painting a better life for himself and his kin in this body of work, Muhammad aims to point the viewer back to themselves and the power they hold to not only survive but to thrive and to turn adversity into dreams fulfilled.