In The Art of Tonia Nneji and Zohra Opoku, Poignant Narratives of Healing

ENUMA OKORO, Vouge, November 13, 2020

For Zohra Opoku, the end of life is the focus of her latest work. Because of the pandemic, her planned exhibitions in Senegal, the United Kingdom, and Greece were postponed until 2021, but in a sprawling new piece she considers a subject that feels painfully relevant during an ongoing global health crisis. Through the mediums of dyed and screen-printed textiles and garments, photography, and film, The Myths of Eternal Life is a collection that examines, in four chapters, Opoku’s own experience coming to terms with a diseased body, and acknowledging her inevitable mortality.

 

The politics of identity formation have always been central to Opoku’s work. As a biracial woman born and raised in her mother’s country, the former German Democratic Republic of East Germany, and now living in her father’s country, Ghana, Opoku has been exploring the cultural, political, historical and socioeconomic influences of identity since she began her artistic practice in 2009. She often examines identity in relation to home and belonging, and ethnic and religious influences. But The Myths of Eternal Life, which will be exhibited next year, represents an ideological shift.

 

On August 22, 2019, a day before her scheduled return to Accra from Berlin, she received a phone call informing her that she had breast cancer. “I can never forget the day I got the call,” she tells me. “For months afterward, I hid my diagnosis because I was embarrassed. I felt like I’d done something wrong.” Consumed with her new reality and seeking treatment in Germany, where she decided to stay, Opoku lost all creative drive. It took her six months to begin new work, and that was at the encouragement of her gallerist and friend Mariane Ibrahim. Ibrahim helped Opoku to see her healing journey as a chance for growth, and indeed each chapter in The Myths of Eternal Lifemeditates on the human spirit, the nature of dying, the transformation from fear to acceptance, and the consideration of the afterlife.