Zohra Opoku explores the somatic culture of textiles in her solo exhibition in Ghana.

German-Ghanaian artist Zohra Opoku’s solo show entitled “Sassa” is an eclectic blend of distinctive African fashion, native customs and an earthy natural essence. The exhibition opened on 10 June 2016 and is ongoing until 10 August at Gallery 1957 in Ghana.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Dicksonia Antarctica’, 2015, Screen-print on textile, 79 x 105 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957. Zohra Opoku, “Sassa”, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

 

Zohra Opoku (b. 1976) is an Accra-based artist whose practice is rooted in mixed media and conceptual art. Her work includes installations, videography, photography and fashion. Opoku tends to draw from her interior experiences to create works of art that have secured her several solo and group shows across the globe, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Guggenheim, Bilbao.

In “Sassa”, Opoku takes inspiration from her recent month-long residency at the cultural research platform ANO in the Ashanti region of Ghana. It is here that she explored the aesthetic, social and cultural value of daily living, creating a positive and unique connection between Ghanaian culture and art.

Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Founder of the ANO platform, expounds:

Through the exploration of the Ashanti concept of ‘sassa’ – described by art historian Ladislas Segy as “the soul that can also lie outside of the body and that flows through all things” – Opoku’s work is in constant interplay with this notion of the unseen and the immanent.

In her exhibition, Opoku connects the soul outside the body to its natural co-existing world, the earth. She does this by examining and honouring nature’s relationship to fabric as in her textile series, history as in her family role series, or identity as in her self-portraits, where she uses nature to reveal a part of herself to the world.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Pyracantha’, 2015, C-Print, 147 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957. Zohra Opoku, “Sassa”, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Cyperus Papyrus’, 2015, Screen-print on textile, 79 x 105 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957. Zohra Opoku, “Sassa”, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

The role of textile

In this exhibition, Opoku emphasises the importance of textiles. As a key motif in her artwork, she examines the use of clothing for its psychological role and individualistic and societal value, while acknowledging her African history. In West Africa, the depiction of civil status, identity, personal style and family background on clothing is common. In a recent interview with Art Africa, the artist mentions that

The traditions of African culture can be read through clothing; the designs of the fabric have meaning containing wisdom, philosophies, and a myriad of histories. At any point in time, clothes can tell us who a person is, where they are from, their social status, and even what their spiritual beliefs are.

Following this line of inquiry, Opoku revitalised ordinary ready-made fabrics, particularly Ghanaian bed sheets, into vibrant displays that signify old socio-cultural traditions through the lens of her artistic sensibility.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Rhododendron’, 2016, Screen-print on textile, 79 x 105 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957. Zohra Opoku, “Sassa”, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016,
www.gallery1957.com

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Nana Afia Abrefi, Bomsu Kumasi’, 2016, Cyanotype on bedsheet, 208 x 126 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

The queen mother

Opoku’s time spent in the Ashanti region allowed her to reflect on her multiracial heritage and identity. In the interview with Art Africa, she said:

In being identified as German, Afro-German, African, Ghanaian, Obroni and Asante all at once, I’ve learnt to live like a Chameleon, and that has influenced my work a lot.

By using natural materials of “mother earth”, Opoku expresses the spiritual presence of sassa, her own identity and the connection of her family members as an eternal intertwined, substantial force. Through this revelation, her three sculptures – Batakari Chair, which represents her home, My Father, which represents her grandfather, and My Mother, which represents her mother – were created. She explains the role of women in her history:  

My father was a chief in his town and he had a role which can normally only be elected by a Queen mother. Whilst growing up, the roles of the women raising me (my mother and grandmother for instance) have always been very fixed, and strong.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Batakari Chair’, 2014, Teak, Abachi wood, cord, nail, 120 x 40 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

Opoku intriguingly refers to her sculptures as “body masks”, as she represents each of her family members as an assortment of everyday objects, abstract imagery and matriarchal interpretation. Although not portrayed in her famous textiles, the artist still reiterates the presence of sassa in these installations.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘My Father’, 2015, Found wood, cord, net, nails, 58 x 69 x 19 in. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘My Mother’, 2015, Found object, 32 x 28 x 6 in. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

The fabric of nature

For her self-portrait series, Opoku uses the natural essence of the environment to present her allegorical interpretation of clothing and fabric as it drapes fashionably in her pieces.

In an interview with Nataal Gallery, she mentions that she often experiments with the surrounding nature as the focal point for her art pieces. Through delicate arrangement and precision, Opoku positions everything into one frame, morphing earthy backdrops and her own portrait to complete the camouflage.

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Rhododendron’, 2015, C-Prints, 147 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

NOT FOR REUSE

Zohra Opoku, ‘Cyperus Papyrus’, 2015, C-Print, 147 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra. Zohra Opoku, Sassa, Gallery 1957, Accra, 10 June – 10 August 2016, www.gallery1957.com

In a 2015 interview with OURS-Conscious Critical Curious Magazine, the artist further elaborates on the topic of nature:

I am raised to respect and appreciate my natural environment. It is the source to bring peace into my life, but also into my work.

Ultimately, Zohra Opoku’s “Sassa” exhibition combines African history and spirituality with her fiercely individual approach. Her work is a conduit for society and culture, family ties, the natural environment and her own identity.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Kenesha Julius

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Related topics: photography, sculpture, identity, African artists, events in Ghana, gallery shows

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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