In Conversation with Zohra Opoku

From Ghana to Bahia

Multidisciplinary Ghanaian-German artist Zohra Opoku has recently curated the show Nathi.Aha.Sasa. in Vienna featuring mostly female emerging artists from different African countries. C& spoke with the artist about her recent project, Queenmothers, in which she explores the links between Ghana and Brazil.

C&: What are the most relevant connections between Ghana and Brazil for you personally?

ZO: When I decided to join a Capoeira Angola class in Germany, I had no idea that experiencing this art form in Brazil would be so closely interwoven with my transformative experience, taking me from just “me” to a more consolidated “my-self”.

Salvador was Brazil’s first colonial capital and one of the largest slave markets in South America, and that played an eye-opening role in my education. On a trip to Brazil with my Capoeira group in 2007, I had the chance of experiencing Africa from a whole new perspective. This made me take a closer look and significantly reanalyze my objectiveness about colonial history and African cultural memories. It helped me to reflect on my Afro-German background on the personal level but also in connection with societal conflicts.

I discovered myself on this journey. And although I had already traveled to Ghana many times before, when I returned from Bahia, I was able to read, digest, and discuss the traditional facts in connection with modern situations in Ghana more concretely and extensively after seeing filtered, but evolved remnant versions in Brazil. These experiences expanded my personal skills beyond the role of a fashion designer and lead me to establish art projects related to textile culture and identity.

C&: How does your research in Bahia feed into your latest work, Queenmothers, relating to women leaders in the Asante region of Ghana?

ZO: I looked at similar matriarchal systems which grew out of African religions, like the Mãe de santo or Mãe de terreiros (mother of the spiritual land or house). For me, these figures represent the most important catalysts in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. The women with their outstanding spiritual presence act as facilitators for a community and their one obligation is to be able to receive their orixa, meaning letting their spirit enter their body. However, their gift comes with several responsibilities. I saw many similarities between these women and the Ghanaian Queenmothers.