Araba Opoku - Whispers Down the Lane: Accra, Gallery II
Gallery 1957, Ghana is proud to announce the gallery's first solo exhibition of new works by Araba Opoku (b. 1998, Ghana), running from September 24 to October 22, 2022. Opoku won the first edition of The Yaa Asantewaa Art Prize in 2021, an accolade launched by Gallery 1957 dedicated towo men artists living and working in Ghana and its diaspora. Whispers Down the Lane is curated by Katherine Finerty, London-based curator, art historian, and writer.
Across an abstract, ethereal body of work, Opoku's paintings of aquatic blues and vegetative greens subtly evoke her ritualistic experience of collecting water, which began when she moved to Dansoman with her mother and sister a decade ago. The artist's process starts with collaged collections of everyday objects relating to her midnight fetching ceremony, from sinks and streets to plants and the moon. She then transfers these collages to the computer, creating warped compositions that serve as maps to her physical and spiritual processes. When Opoku finally transports these sketches to paper, she relishes in pouring splashes of water and paint directly onto the canvas. This aqueous foundation is then built up through layers of acrylic colour and web-like borders, their undulating surfaces mirroring the effects of water with collaged details recalling our dream states. Whilst painting, Opoku fills her studio with the sounds of alternative musicians such as FKA Twigs, Sevdaliza, and Amaarae - as if in a subcultural sisterhood. The artist explains, "The mind is a map, an entire world waiting to become tangible in form, I explore how and why I want to make that possible".
This immersive show invites us on a sensory journey that starts with the artist's ritualistic vigil and travels across the many moons of our solar systems: their origin stories, their lunar cycles, their mythological namesakes. The artwork titles' intergalactic inspiration is derived from Sci-Fi TV shows, from the fantastical Sandman and horrific Stranger Things to animated space opera Final Space and adult comedy Rick and Morty. Further informed by 15 different moons discovered on Nasa's Solar System Exploration platform, science is presented as an entity full of secrets - whispers that disperse from creature to creator, planet to galaxy. Their slippages form memories that live on through endless storytelling. Exploring this tradition of gathering water at midnight across generations, the exhibition considers the effects of moonlight, the cyclical nature of being, the lost symmetry of twins, the passing of transitory memory, and the omnipresent constellations created by stars and spiders. Opoku persistently turns towards these nocturnal creatures, who under interstellar skies connect intricate worlds by spinning expansive blankets ensuing from their webs; textile-like places that make you feel safe, held, and capable of imagining new and endless possibilities.
Accompanying 15 new paintings is Opoku's first video work documenting the sensory, insomniatic stages of midnight rising and water rationing with her sister. Spider's Blanket, directed by Christine
Boateng, layers vignettes of what is both shared and lost in the collective process of collecting water, as in the childhood game of Whispers Down the Lane, where messages are passed from ear to ear, starting where they finish and transforming as they traverse. Opoku's choice of characters, colours, and visual language portray the diverse experiences of Accra residents, capturing still moments that also narrate stories of ordinary people and the essence of water in all our daily lives. As an accompanying programme to the exhibition, Opoku invites groups of children to engage in a thematic workshop series responding to the installation.
Opoku's watery worlds conjure hope, beauty, and even satisfaction from struggle. Whilst inside the artist's dreamscape, we join in her choreographies of colour, cosmology, and kinship. The dance propels us into another universe: an upside-down limbo where our rituals in the wake of twilight help us not only hydrate, but heal.
Text by Curator Katherine Finerty