Unraveled Threads

Zohra Opoku

2017 - 2019

In parts of my work where I explore the ability to express one’s identity, textiles embody the vehicle with which identity can be actualized. Concurrently, I have grown comfortable with my photographic medium and understand my subconscious is longing to recreate prints I once learned in an analogue way. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom at the beginning of my art education, and presently I admire those developed images in particular. They remind me of images from my childhood because those were also black and white. As I survey these images I travel to the fleeting moments of my past, feeling nostalgic as I work with these new mediums.

I have incorporated this aesthetic into my large-scale replicas by using different print making processes. I have further developed my methods in screen-printing and alternative photo process printing onto textiles, connecting my interest fields wholly. The material veritably absorbs the photographic image, demonstrating how in society material can become imbued with meaning, memories and history.

In my series Unraveled Threads I am embracing the imprint of errors created during my first screen-printing experience in Ghana. As I continue to reflect on these prints, they appear more like paintings.

UNRAVELED THREADS - -Commentary by Mark Auslander

In this compelling body of work, the German/Ghanian multimedia artist Zohra Opoku meditates upon the overlapping strands of her complex family history. She was born in the GDR, the former East Germany, to a German mother, Brigitte Gerda Marlies Jurk, and a Ghanaian father, Dr. George Bob Kwabena Opoku. Her father, an Asante royal, returned to Ghana soon after her birth; her mother had to remain in East Germany, and raised Zohra under challenging circumstances.

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, within the 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 color 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 color. 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.

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  • One Of Me I, Screenprint on textile, Thread, Denim, Application-Vintage Kente

  • One Of Me I, Detail 1

  • One Of Me I, Detail 2

  • Debie, Screenprint on textile, Thread, Acrylic

  • Debie, Detail

  • Bob's Cloth, Screenprint on textile, Thread, Application-Vintage Kente, Application - Vintage waxprint, Vintage Kente cloth, Thread

  • Bob's Cloth, Detail

  • Bob's Clan, Screenprint on textile, Thread,

  • Malisa & Bob, Screenprint on textile, Thread

  • Kwame & Max, Screenprint on textile, Thread, Vintage Kente Cloth, Denim

  • In Bob's Footsteps, Screenprint on textile, Thread, Denim

  • One Of Me II, Screenprint on textile, Thread

  • One Of Me II, Detail