Thursday, April 14, 2016

CHICAGO: Zohra Opoku

Draped Encounters/Beyond Visage
April 14 - May 14, 2016

Curated by Erin Gilbert

3709 North Southport Avenue
Chicago, IL


Kruger Gallery Chicago presents Draped Encounters/ Beyond Visage, the first US solo exhibition of works by Ghanaian-German artist Zohra Opoku. Opoku is a photographer, filmmaker and installation artist whose work is informed by fashion, nature, Ghana and psychic energy.

Draped Encounters/Beyond Visage presents two recent bodies of work shot between 2012 and 2015. Opoku is a former fashion designer, who employs textiles and the language of fashion to explore issues of identity and representation. In carefully choreographed moments of tropical gardens and urban ruins, Opoku interrogates the relationship of textiles to natural and built environments. In her photographs, films and installations, Opoku uses second hand textiles, imported from Europe and the US to Ghana, to thread an African feminist handwriting in the work. Staged in Accra, Ghana, these images document the travels of a woman of African descent who performatively traced the transatlantic.

The first body of work, entitled Handwash Only, began in 2008 and was originally conceived of as a research series. Named for the washing instructions on clothing tags, this series addresses the daily hassle of washing by hand in Africa.  These images capture clothes hung by the owner and rearranged in a gust of wind. These natural compositions offer a glimpse from the public sphere to the private sphere, mythologizing the owners, seen only through their laundry-hanging rituals. These clothes represent a shared experience. Opoku observed that the African wax print, which she associates with a classical Ghanaian dress code, is seldom seen on traditional clotheslines. To create the illusion of Ghanaian identity, Opoku includes the rarely found African print wax in her clothesline compositions.

The second body of work is a set of film stills from Textures in Motion which bears witness to the engagement between the body, textile and environment. In the video Ms. Opoku uses artists as models, then drapes and disguises them to mimic a distinctly west African mystical practice of masquerade. Rather than the physical identity it is the psychic energy, the movement of the artist, which renders them visible in these draped encounters.

According to Okopu, “The entity or force of a spirit: In the African world the Western differentiation between consciousness and unconsciousness does not exist. Africans invented different names for the soul, which can be located outside a body. It is called “sassa” by the Ashantis. In my disguise practices I capture what we can’t see with our physical eye — the dynamic spirit “sassa.” (Ours Lagos Photo 2015 Festival Interviews).

Zohra Opoku (b.1976) is a German born, Accra-based versatile artist whose work employs media including installations, photography and video to explore the sophistication of textile cultures in disparate spaces targeting fashion’s political and psychological role and socio-cultural dynamics in relation to African history and individualistic or societal identities. Opoku received an MFA from the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg.

Opoku has been included in exhibitions nationally and internationally. In 2015 alone she was featured Material Effects at the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan; Future Africa: Visions in Time in Denmark; Making Africa at the Guggenheim Bilbao; and Making Africa at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Switzerland. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in London; Berlin; Accra, Ghana; and Capetown, South Africa. Her work will be featured in a solo presentation at 1:54 Art Fair in New York, May 6-8, 2016 by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

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