Zohra Opoku’s solo installation We were Queens and Kings, closing at the end of this month is yet another feather on the artist’s hat (or rather, now that we are talking royalty, another diamond on the artist’s crown.)
It marks a milestone in both the artist’s stellar rise over the past few years, and in the installation and performance arts scene in Accra in general. This is Opoku’s second solo show in Accra in two years, the first being at Accra’s Gallery 1957 in 2016. The installation is curated by the duly celebrated curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim.
Housed at the ANO Gallery in Osu, Accra, the installation catches one’s attention from Lokko road, drawing one towards the Gallery’s large windows for a closer look. Textiles, wood, and photography appear to be the materials of choice for this particular installation. This is not entirely surprising, since she is trained professionally in fashion, and has often blended all three media into room-filling pieces in her previous work (for example at the 2016 1:54 Contemporaty African Art Fair in London or at the 2017 Future African Visions of Time exhibition in Nairobi.)
In We were Queens and Kings, she appears to use the various components independently of each other. Nevertheless, the interconnection is palpable. In one of the galleries, the painted blocks of colour that structure a hanging wooden installation reappear on the large continuous drape hanging close to the wall. The patterns on the blocks of wood are superimposed upon images that have been printed on the cloth.
In the second gallery, the Zohra Opoku’s photography is presented on a wall, structured by pieces of wood which are painted in patterns. This structure is interrupted when one turns around to see strips of textile hanging close to one of the large windows. In the background, life along Lokko road is going on, with taxis and people passing by.
Opoku connects textile cultures and African history in her work. She uses textiles in all of their forms, from high quality woven textiles to more ubiquitous cotton textiles used for the production of everyday t-shirts bed sheets. She uses printed and plain textiles, as well textiles dyed in many different colours.
The German-Ghanaian artist has previously acknowledged the role of design in her work, and it is not difficult to see this influence while walking through the installation. The combination of colours, textures, shapes and images appear arbitrary in some of the work, and very calculated in others. In one particular piece close attention to detail reveals that there is nothing arbitrary about it. The textile fragments hanging on the window are arranged according to colours and even shades, and are meant to communicate a particular sense of tendency without distracting the viewer from the whole (the spatiality) of the piece.
The gallery acquires a very peaceful and quiet air through the installation pieces. In one gallery they absorb most of the surrounding soundscape, and one is drawn in by the silence enabling a focussed engagement with the work. In the other, even though a single drape covers the whole length of the wall, the piece is not overbearing.
The black and white drape is aesthetically mediated every now and then by greyscale patterns, images and dashes of blue and red. Additionally, the drape sways gently with the wind, enabling an immersive experience with the artist’s work.
The contemplative atmosphere invites one to think about the role of textiles in the performance and embodiment of the regal, especially in Ghana where Kente and other textiles speak volumes about social status.
One is left wondering how textiles can mediate sublime royalties in the present, how We are Queens and Kings in the here and now.
All photos | Eric Otieno
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