German/Ghanaian artist living and working in Accra, Zohra Opoku captivates viewers using multiple mediums including installation, photography, sculpture and video. Her thematic investigations revolve around Ghanaian traditions, spirituality and family lineage and how they relate to self-authorship and her hybrid identity. Material culture often forms the foundation of these investigations, with textiles woven together in how these thematic investigations manifest.
The images that she prints on fabric speak to the intimacy and history that textiles can come to contain. In her series Queenmothers 2016, the centring of female figures is a reflection on matriarchal systems and women as creators of a sense of community among people.
Her more recent work Unraveled Threads 2017, comprised of screenprints on cotton, canvas & linen, connects to her exploration of her family lineage. Opoku did not know much about her father or her Ghanaian heritage during her childhood. In Unraveled Threads, she uses the kente cloth as a way to enhance her family history. Kente cloth varies in design, colour and pattern, each carrying stories and meaning. While the cloth is worn by different kinds of people today, it is historically associated with royalty and sacredness. It is believed that the origins of this woven cloth is that two farmers came across a spider. Amazed by the way the spider creates its web, they tried to imitate thus creating the kente design.
“Identity is always, for me, based in textile,” Opoku explains in an interview with OkayAfrica.
The stories and proverbs associated with each kente design makes this form of woven cloth a carrier of ethnic history. Quite fittingly, Opoku was inspired by the kente cloth that she found in her late father’s wardrobe as the canvas on which to present her father as an Asante leader, as well as to print images of herself and her siblings. Here she not only pays homage to a father she barely knew, but also embraces the significance of kente as threaded history. This allows her to engage with her Ghanaian roots as well as her familial history. She explores her experiences growing up in the West, and what it means to confront blackness and Africa as an artist later in her life.