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Ghanaian artist in COVID-19 limbo stirred by ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement

Tears slipped down the cheek of the Ghanaian-German artist, Zohra Opoku, as she recalled how the global Black Lives Matter had sparked her pain and anger while she was stranded away from home due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

After Senegal closed its borders in early March, the internationally renowned visual artist had no option but to remain at a residency in Dakar, Senegal's capital, where she had been creating large textile collages to explore her self-image after a bad cancer diagnosis.

When the brutal murder of George Floyd in U.S. police custody sparked a global reckoning over racial injustice and oppression, the 44-year-old stitched a new piece in tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement and the worldwide protests against racial injustice.

German-Ghanaian artist Zohra Opoku works on her project at Kehinde Wiley's artist residence during the interview in Dakar, Senegal. Image credit REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The protests “have shaken us and awakened us and sharpened our senses about what kind of world we want to live in,” she explains, standing in front of the work-in-progress in her studio at the Black Rock Senegal residency.

She has a rare perspective on the Black experience after growing up surrounded by white people in the communist East Germany, as the daughter of a Ghanaian father and German mother.

“I was always standing out too much,” recalled Opoku, who now calls Accra her own home. “I learned to resist the racist energy and hate against coloured people in East Germany, especially after the wall came down.”

Image credit REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The quest for identity is a central theme in all her works. In the earlier made self-portraits, Opoku obscured her face with plants. In her latest series, she also combined images of bare tree branches from her native Germany with dissected photos of herself. An authentic masterpiece.

“I’ve always been interested in disappearing in an environment because of my upbringing,” she concluded.


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