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Ibrahim Mahama: Building a parliament with old train seats in an art gallery

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Ibrahim Mahama at the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester

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Ibrahim Mahama and the seats at the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester

Dozens of worn plastic train seats and dilapidated wooden lockers that were destined for the dump in Ghana have ended up in a Manchester art gallery, in a work by one of Africa’s most exciting young artists.

When hundreds of hard, scratched second-class train seats were abandoned after their clapped-out carriages were scrapped several years ago, only one man was likely to be interested in them.

Ibrahim Mahama has made his name by collecting objects other people would dismiss as junk, but which he thinks can help him tell a story.

After salvaging the seats, the artist has repurposed 120 of them – plus several dozen old lockers once used by train workers – to create a four-sided imitation of Ghana’s parliament chamber at the Whitworth gallery in Manchester. It’s called Parliament of Ghosts.

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Michael Pollard

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People are invited to use the Parliament of Ghosts for their own debates

The ghosts, he says, are the opportunities his home country failed to grasp over the years, and the train seats and railway workers’ lockers symbolise that story.

Ghana’s train system was built under British colonial rule and was due to be expanded after the optimism of independence in 1957, with the railway workers instrumental in the independence movement. But the optimism faded, economic growth struggled to take off and a series of military coups hampered progress. The railways were neglected for decades.

Parliament of Ghosts represents the “potential of a country that was yet to manifest itself, but never came to be, in a way”, Mahama says. The seats and other objects carry the memories of everything they have witnessed and been through, he believes. “They embody all of it.”

The same goes for the lockers. “A lot of these cabinets were used to store workers’ clothes and tools and things. So there’s a lot of grease from the restoration of trains and the dismantling.

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Michael Pollard

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A photo of Ghanaian railway workers used in Mahama’s installation

“The cabinets almost become these living organisms that witness the entire life cycles of generations upon generations of how a certain system has somehow been maintained – but at the same time the flaws of it. I like to think they are living things that somehow can speak in a language that the workers themselves cannot.”

Parliament of Ghosts doesn’t just represent the flaws of Ghana’s government, but is meant to highlight the failures of parliaments around the world – not least, at a time of Brexit deadlock, the UK’s. “Parliament of Ghosts is a question of what potential lies within the failures of the world,” Mahama says.

The train seats are actually thought to have been manufactured in Manchester or Leeds, adding to the story of their return. This is the Ghanaian artist’s first major UK exhibition – commissioned by the Manchester International Festival – and people are invited to go and use his parliament chamber to host their own debates, performances and screenings.

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Michael Pollard

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Films are projected inside a replica of a disused concrete Ghanaian cocoa silo

He has many more train seats back home, and is planning to create a much larger version of the parliament at the arts centre he opened in his home town of Tamale in March.

“When I propose a work, I always make sure I have one maybe three or four times larger in Ghana which we can somehow use to create permanent spaces for the local community to experience,” he says. “Because that’s the point. I guess I’m quite tired of seeing how we as artists produce works which end up going to Europe and other places, whereas locally our own people don’t get to experience these ideas that we’re working with.”

Mahama also talks about how his institute – the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art – is working on initiatives to help with agriculture, housing and education. But he is also in demand in Europe and beyond. At the age of 32, he is represented by the prestigious White Cube gallery in London and earlier this year was the youngest of six artists to exhibit in the first Ghanaian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

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Getty Images

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Ibrahim Mahama’s jute sack flags outside the United Nations HQ

He has previously made artworks out of hundreds of wooden tool boxes used by shoe shiners, and by covering buildings in jute sacks that had been used to carry cocoa, maize and charcoal. He recently also used the sacks to replace the flags outside the United Nations’ headquarters at the Rockerfeller Center in New York. Replacing national flags with decaying food sacks “reminded us of the global condition in a way”, he says.

The Manchester exhibition also includes a replica of the concrete silos that were built in Ghana in the late 1950s to store cocoa beans before they were processed, but which remained empty. There are also battered Ghanaian wooden school bookcases that Mahama obtained after offering to make new furniture for the schools to replace them.

“The older the objects, with the decay and the stains, that’s what I find a value in,” the artist says. “The memory and the pattern is something that speaks to us – rather than when a thing is very new, and it almost has no soul to it.”

Parliament of Ghosts is at the Whitworth gallery until 29 September.

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Love Island: Tributes paid to Caroline Flack as winners are crowned

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Caroline Flack was found dead at her London flat last weekend

Love Island paid tribute to Caroline Flack as its first winter series drew to a close on Sunday night.

The former host of the show was found dead in her London flat last weekend.

“The past week has been extremely difficult, coming to terms with the loss of our friend and colleague, Caroline,” presenter Laura Whitmore told viewers of the ITV2 programme.

“Caroline loved Love Island. She loved love, and that’s why tonight’s final is dedicated to her.”

She added: “We’re thinking of her family and everyone who knew her at this time.”

The programme then showed a montage of some of Flack’s memorable moments from the series in recent years.

The islanders were told about Flack’s death off-camera on Saturday, an ITV spokesman confirmed.

Finley Tapp and Paige Turley were crowned the winners of the series as the finale drew to a close.

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ITV

Two episodes of this series were pulled from the schedules last weekend after Flack was found dead.

The show returned the following Monday with a tribute to Flack from the show’s narrator Iain Stirling.

This has been the first series of the show to take place in winter and be filmed in South Africa.

Previous seasons have been filmed on the Spanish island of Mallorca over the summer.

Overall, the winter series has been a ratings hit for ITV2, albeit not as successful as previous summer series.

This series has been attracting around three million viewers per episode, including via catch-up services, compared with the 4.5 million the last summer series generally attracted.

Laura Whitmore is the show’s current presenter. She joined the show after Flack was charged with assaulting her boyfriend.

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EPA

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Laura Whitmore pictured at the Brit Awards last week

Tapp and Turley were crowned the winners of this series on Sunday night, winning the £50,000 prize, which they chose to share between them.

In a twist that occurs in every series, Turley was given the chance to “steal” the full prize money before she decided to split it evenly.

“It’s been such an amazing experience,” Turley said earlier in the episode. “It’s been filled with challenges, but it’s been amazing.”

Asked what first attracted him to Turley, Tapp said: “I loved how outgoing she was. I wasn’t wrong in picking her because I thought she’d make me laugh and smile all day long. She’s made me very happy.”

Earlier this series, they became the first pair to become an official couple in the villa.

Turley attracted headlines when the series launched in January because she is the ex-girlfriend of singer Lewis Capaldi.

The Scottish star referred to her while accepting the Brit Award for best single earlier this month, for his song Someone You Loved.

“A lot of people think this song is about my ex-girlfriend, who you can now see every night on Love Island,” he said.

“But it’s actually about my grandmother, who sadly passed away a few years ago. I hope ITV don’t contact her to be a on a reality dating show.”

During the finale, Whitmore confirmed the show would return to Mallorca for a new series this summer.


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Earth Harp: The man behind the unique instruments ‘epic’ sound

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William Close is the inventor behind the Earth Harp – the world’s longest string instrument which uses architecture and landscapes to create a unique sound.

Mr Close, who has performed the giant harp all over the world, says the audiences are often left feeling like they are “inside the instrument” during his performances.



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Verdi opera: Conductor stops performance over ‘phone miscreants’

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Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi learnt to speak Welsh while serving as the music director of Welsh National Opera between 1992 and 2001

A conductor has twice stopped an opera in Cardiff after mobile phones rang in the audience.

Carlo Rizzi was conducting Welsh National Opera’s new production of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Sicilienes, at Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday night.

Audience members said Rizzi twice stopped and spoke to the audience about the distraction it caused.

Verdi’s opera is based around true events in Sicily in 1282.

‘Phone miscreants’

David Jackson, a BBC employee who was in the audience, said Rizzi was applauded after bemoaning the interruption caused by mobile phones.

He said: “I spoke to Carlo afterwards and congratulated him on the performance, but also on tackling the phone miscreants.

“He got a warm round of applause after he stopped and ticked off the audience member. Both incidents were right at the beginning of the show and all was well after that.”

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Robin Drayton/Geograph

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Based at the Wales Millennium Centre, the Donald Gordon Theatre is named after its patron, a South African businessman

The opera is sung by WNO in French in its new production directed by Sir David Pountney.

Another audience member confirmed the two instances of disruption caused by mobile phones.

It is not the first time a mobile phone has drawn irritation during a high-profile live performance, with the devices falling foul of numerous artists in the past.

Pianist Krystian Zimerman stormed out of a concert in 2013 because a fan was filming with his phone.

And film and stage actors Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman and Benedict Cumberbatch have all voiced their anger at the use of mobiles while treading the boards in London.

Last year, singer Madonna said she would ban mobile phones from future gigs.

Jackson said his enjoyment of the opera in Cardiff was not affected by the interruptions.

“It was a wonderful performance of a comparatively rarely done piece of Verdi – the mobile phone business didn’t detract,” he said.

WNO confirmed there were “short pauses” and that Rizzi addressed the audience following the second interruption.



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