Home Magazine Six Questions to Emmanuel Manu Opoku

The Kooness Team interviewed the artist Emmanuel Manu Opoku that opened up about his artistic process and inspirations.

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Kooness: What inspires you?

Emmanuel Manu Opoku: I take advantage of every experience in my life to be significant enough to develop an artwork. I pay attention to the symbols of value associated with every individual. I believe that it is my responsibility as an artist to be unique in my artistic practice. The most significant part of my work is inspired by viewers in terms of their fascinations and comments that I recall from my exhibitions. Also, I am inspired by Pierre Reverdy’s poem. His poems show multiple items - the beginning of the poem starts in a way and ends differently, yet it has a very strong visual effect, the greates I have experienced from a written text.

K: What is the artistic process behind your artwork?

EM: In the studio space, I constantly imagine how the viewers would respond to the decisions I make. The embedded sense of humor in my artworks makes the viewers active instead of being passive, while they read their own meanings into familiar items that tend to substitute the head.

Also, the way I position the objects makes the work more unique through the bizarre changes of the face. It is like a realization of objects recontextualized from their mundane settings into symbols of experiences. This process reminds me of Erik Satie’s musical compositions - the French composer creates ambiguous sounds through the composition of keynotes, that become repetitive sounds that continuously play in your ears.

Emmanuel Manu Opoku. Self-Portrait with Batakari, 2022. Courtesy of Emmanuel Manu Opoku

K: Who are your biggest artistic influences.

EM: I am fascinated by the work of Nick Cave. By observing his sculptures, you can't see a face, yet the objects make the watcher curious to understand the identity. It is impressive how his assemblage involves multiple objects that are woven together. Also, David Hammons work made me realize how objects can be magical and project powerful statements through humorous combinations. It gives you the confidence to understand that art represents more than what we preconceive and questions how the language of art works. Then, Rachel Harrison's artworks also inspire me - with her works, you look at the recollection of items and believe you recognize the shapes based on their familiarity, yet the ambiguity makes you wonder what notion of aesthetics one could use to appreciate a work of art – a careful blurring of boundary between abstract and figurative forms. In addition to the artists mentioned earlier, I am also heavily influenced by artists such as Issa Gensken, Georges Adeagbo, Robert Rauschenberg, and Marcel Duchamp.

K: How do you define success as an artist?

EM: I do not think that I have the ideal definition for success, but I believe that the successful artist is the one who has dedication. I view the art practice as a cumulative GPA. Whatever you do and whichever energy you carry reflects on your future.

Emmanuel Manu Opoku. Dear Dorcas, 2022. Courtesy of Emmanuel Manu Opoku 


K: How do you develop your art skills?

EM: I like to be fed with the history of art, but I tend to not get too satisfied with it because it is history – that is why beyond the inspiration I aim to show something totally different. I believe that history adds unique aesthetics to art. I used to study linguistics during my Masters in Fine Arts. Upon the realization of history in languages in terms of word borrowing, it developed my mind to understand that there is a need to know what my predecessors did, how that has transitioned and know what is happening now. Art being a language, I seek to reflect on my time as a contemporary artist. Being a contemporary artist is very nostalgic. In as much as you uncontrollably want to create new ideas, there is still that feeling of how significant it is to know that great ideas are inspired by things that have happened in the past. I pay attention to the work of Rembrandt in terms of what made him a significant portrait artist. I also look at the paintings of Johannes Vermeer’s in terms of his outstanding creativity to capture a moment that draws the viewer to live within the painting - a special treatment of materials in the picture.

K: What have critics and collectors said about your work.

EM: I met Hans Obrist Ulrich in Accra, Ghana in 2015 and I had the opportunity to present my work to him during a workshop at the Nubuke Foundation. He commented that my art practice is great, and I should keep it up. In 2018, when I met him in Miami Art Basel, he introduced me to his colleague as a very wonderful artist from Ghana. Hearing that from a great critic and curator like Hans Obrist was the warmest compliment I am always proud of. 

Cover image: Emmanuel Manu Opoku, Good Listener, 2022. Courtesy of Emmanuel Manu Opoku

Written by: Kooness

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