A Ghanaian Artist With Global Reach

Gallery 1957 is leading the charge for West African art. See inside the space's second-ever exhibition and discover the intimate work of artist Zohra Opoku.

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Artist Zohra Opoku has never felt like she truly belonged anywhere. Born to a German mother and Ghanaian father, Opoku grew up in Germany in what she calls a "'white' environment." "I was the only one of African descent near to me," the artist says of her upbringing. "I considered my identity a lot, and Ghana became the place I wanted to be."

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In just the last few years, Opoku has duly moved to Accra, Ghana, following this interest in her own ethnic identity—it's now a large part of the inspiration in her artistic practice. Her latest exhibition, Sassa, which opens today as the second-ever show at Accra's new Gallery 1957, delves deep into the culture of textiles, and finds the artist looking for personal meaning through dress.

"I considered my identity a lot, and Ghana became the place I wanted to be."

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One of the main themes in Opoku's work is the line between the unseen self and the public self, and it's on display in Sassa through a series of self portraits that portray Opoku dressed colorfully but obscured by foliage. "[These works] reflect my absence of spirit in a place that I have never fully accepted," she says of the portraits, which were shot in Ghana. "This is not my complete identity."

Another series in the show consists of portraits screen-printed onto bed sheets. This jarring juxtaposition of photography and textiles instills Opoku's work with new meaning. "The materials literally absorb the photographic image," Opoku says. "It demonstrates how material becomes imbued with meaning, memories, and histories over time."

"Zohra explores issues of identity and self-expression so elegantly," says Marwan Zakham, who founded Gallery 1957 in March to offer a more accessible platform for West African art.  "Zohra's work presents…a connection between our bodily presence in the landscape and how we present our 'interiority' in the physical world." It's a theme we can all relate to, Zakham adds. And it presents a question we all ask ourselves: How do I want to present myself in this world?

Sassa will be on view through August 1. For more information, see gallery1957.com.

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