16 March 2020
16 March 2020 - Selected by PHmuseum
Zohra Opoku adopts different printing processes to translate photographs onto textile materials as a way to explore her interstitial status and complex family history.
In this compelling body of work, German/Ghanian multimedia artist Zohra Opoku meditates on the overlapping strands of her complex family history.
On cotton and canvas surfaces, the artist has printed photographs of her father wearing his regalia as the Asante monarch Nana Opoku Gyabaah II, Chidomhene of Asato/Akan, in Ghana’s Volta Region. Zohra herself has no direct memories of her father, and has had to reconstruct her father’s story, and her relationship to Akan spiritual worlds, through her mother’s distant recollections and the memories of her younger siblings, who came of age in Ghana. Significantly, she has reworked photographs given to her by her Ghanaian siblings after her father’s death; these images on cloth highlight both the profound distance between the artist and her father’s homeland, and the continuing work of reestablishing intimate family bonds.
The blurriness of the images is intentional, evoking ambiguous spaces between imagination and direct knowledge, between dreams and narrative, and between the modern world and the ancient past. Her artistic process involves repeatedly washing out by hand photographic screens, introducing the errors and disruptions inevitably accumulated across geographical distance and the passage of time, as family stories are told and retold. Photography here functions as a form of divination, bringing the honored dead into dynamic relationships with their living descendants across the great divides between worlds. This sense of mysterious intimacy is intensified by the presence in many photographs of sacred trees and sacred groves, which in Akan cosmology serve as portals to the life-giving powers of divinities and ancestors.
Into these assemblages, the artist has worked Kente woven cloth, historically reserved for those of royal rank among Akan-speaking peoples. She honors the intricate, sacred symbolism of Kente, whose colour combinations bear profound meanings and sacred potencies. In so doing, she weaves together her father’s royal lineage and her own immediate family histories. She simultaneously explores her own interstitial status in the global system of racial identities: in Ghana she is classified as a “white woman,” while in Germany she would be considered a person of colour. Her work creates sheltering spaces for all persons who have multiple, overlapping heritage, who seek a sense of belonging and acceptance in a world that seems increasingly obsessed with division and exclusion. Within these encompassing, welcoming garments, all of us are given a glimpse of home and homecoming, and a tangible reminder that there is always, somewhere, a place for us.
Words by Mark Auslander and Pictures by Zohra Opoku.
Zohra Opoku is an artist of German and Ghanaian descent based in Accra. She examines the political, historical, cultural, and socio-economic influences in the formation of personal identities, particularly in the context of contemporary Ghana. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.