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'Unraveled Threads': Ghanaian Artist Zohra Opoku's Latest Work Focuses On Kente & Identity

Zohra Opoku reclaims her family’s narrative in her collection of screen prints, “Unraveled Threads,” debuting in a solo show at the Armory in NYC this week.

There’s something very powerful about the way Ghanaian photographer Zohra Opoku has reclaimed her family’s narrative in her latest collection of screen prints, “Unraveled Threads,” debuting in a solo show at the Armory in NYC this week.


In the screen sprints, the artist layers images of her late Ghanaian father over fabric patterned after kente cloth found in his wardrobe. “Identity is always, for me, based in textile,” Opoku reveals.

Though the German-born artist didn't connect with her father, or know much about her Ghanaian heritage, until she was an adult, in “Unraveled Threads,” she takes a very traditional cloth—kente—and uses it to enhance her family’s history, presenting her father as an Asante leader.

Her work explores what it means to grow up in the West, and later, confront a set of ideas about blackness, Africa, and belonging—as both an artist and a woman.

Malisa & Bob.

“Coming from the West, and using this traditional setup, it’s a very sensitive subject to explore,” Opoku mentions. “Kente has over a thousand different designs, and every one of them has meaning. There are certain ones in particular just for royal families. There’s kente from Nigeria, kente from Togo; but the Ghanaian one is very popular.”

The collection consists of blurred images of her father screen printed onto Ghanaian kente, as well as original images of Opoku and her siblings in the recreated kente pattern. The cloth serves as a literal thread between child and father—a spiritual connection to a man Opoku only knew for a short while before he passed away.

“It has this blurry effect of images and memories, to show how we are connected to our own imagination and memories. It’s a collage of information and storytelling—of my father, but also my brothers and sisters.”

Bob's Clan.

Opoku’s previous work also places fashion within a deeper social and historical context of identity. In 2010, textile installations on billboards across Accra, titled “Who Is Wearing My T-Shirt,” explored the impact of second-hand clothes from the West on the self-perception of West African people.

Her most recent collection of self-portraits depicts the artist in various stylish dresses, partially obscured by nature. “Nature gives me a sense of home. My mom was always gardening. My father was a gardener himself, and very interested in farming. That influence made nature a safe place for me.”

Growing up in Germany, Opoku admits that "my connection to Africa was zero.” Her mother was hesitant to luxuriate in stories about her father because of the paranoia induced by life behind the Berlin Wall. “She was behind the wall of Eastern Germany, so up until [1989] it was a kind of controlled system. She was kind of a watched person,” Opoku says, partly because of her romance with Opoku’s Ghanaian father.

ZohraOpoku
"Rhododondron"

The artist finally moved to Accra in 2011, a place she now calls home. “There were so many things I couldn’t explain as a young woman in Germany,” she says. “Why don’t I feel connected? Why don’t I always feel comfortable in white society? Until I was 13 I hadn’t seen black people at all. So I was very much an outsider in a way.”

Opoku portrays this disconnection from her heritage via the unfocused nature of the screen prints. “Those blurry moments are when you can’t really see where certain behaviors, feelings are coming from. The imperfection creates the narrative of not knowing everything about the family and past.”

“Unraveled Threads” is the first collection Opoku printed and created entirely in Ghana. “On one hand, I’m very emotionally attached to the project,” she says. “But on the other, working professionally [with this subject] gives me a detachment in creating my own story and seeing it with a kind of distance.”

Zohra Opoku "Sassa"

Opoku remarks that we all have the opportunity to reflect on our own evolving identities, to decide how interested we each are in engaging with the past and digging into our cultural background. She hopes her work will help inspire other female artists in Africa to be more forthright in telling their own stories.

“In Ghana, as a female artist, it is very important to connect with other women artists, because we are still very underrepresented,” she says. The industry is evolving where “it’s not just the male artist being aggressive, with the woman in the background. Now is the time when Ghana has a chance to bring attention to its arts industry.”

“Unraveled Threads” is presented by gallerist Mariane Ibrahim and will debut at the Armory in a solo exhibition from March 2 to March 5, 2017. The gallery just won The Armory Presents Booth Prize at this year's fair for presenting Opoku's exhibit.

Detail: Bob.

Detail: Malisa

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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