Papa Oppong: An ode to the African woman

Illustrations have always had a place in our societies from the initial cave paintings in France 15,000 BC to the Japanese painted blocks of the 1600s. Now, African fashion illustrator. Papa Oppong Bediako, a young Ghanaian illustrator and designer is bringing his contribution of African women-inspired pieces to bear on the art form.

The illustrator, who studied fashion design at Ghana’s Radford University College, made a name for himself on social media and even got Rihanna to follow him on Instagram! His work has also been widely recognised by many including CNN and Forbes.

Guardian Life had a short chat with the creative on his process and future plans for his brand.

Papa Oppong

How did you initially become interested in illustrations?

Growing up, I used to watch my mom and her little sister getting ready to go out. I loved the whole process: hair, makeup, clothes, shoes and accessories. I grew up in the 90s, which had a very vibrant fashion scene in Accra. The leg o mutton sleeves and kitten heels were notable trends that really struck me.

I was also very obsessed with Barbie dolls, which was odd for a boy but I remember drawing my own Barbie dolls and styling them like I saw my mom and her sister dress up and that’s my earliest recollection of illustrating as a child.

How did you start building your identity in the industry?

To be honest, I think it just sort of happened. I’m very open about sharing my work online. I think it’s important that creatives put themselves out there because you never know who’s watching!  I started sharing my work on social media circa 2012 and I’ve gained so much from the act; Kelly Rowland, Rihanna and a few other notable celebrities have seen and shared their thoughts on my work, helping to spread my work across the globe.

Give us a slight breakdown of your creative process?

I like to draw in series so I can compartmentalise my ideas. I begin with a central idea and then develop it into silhouettes and looks. An example is my Kakai series, meaning “Monster” in the Twi language. In this series, my central theme was Picasso’s African art period and voodoo. Through the central theme, I designed my own unique masks.

The series saw a juxtaposition of high fashion and some clichéd elements of Ghanaian voodoo; feathers, beads, amulets and charms paired with high slits, chiffon drapery and wax prints.

Tell us about major challenges you have?

Finding funds for projects has to be one of the major challenges I’ve faced. Executing wild ideas can be very difficult with limited funds but someway somehow it always gets done. I think it’s important that young people come together and collaborate more, this helps to reduce the financial burden of creative projects and also leads to the sharing of some seriously dope ideas.

Do your life experiences or background have anything to do with your work?

Being African, I try as much as possible to illustrate black women and elaborate on the features that make them magic. I do this by exaggerating the hips, elongating the neck and emphasising the calves. I guess it’s safe to say my work is an ode to the African woman. It makes absolutely no sense to me to focus the subjects of my illustrations on anything else but the African woman.

Illustration of Rihanna

Who are the people that inspire you currently?

At the moment, I’m observing Asian fashion closely, I love the Japanese and Chinese, not only because of their fashion but their cultures in general are interesting to read about. Fashion-wise, I love knots, bows and drawstrings and I see a lot of that in their fashion history. I also love the silhouettes from designers like Issey Miyake and Guo Pei a lot.

For the Birds presentation

Tell us about any exciting project you have planned for the year?

I started this annual fashion presentation thing last December. The first presentation was called For The Birds, I really wanted to show the power of collaboration and so I rounded up a bunch of friends and creatives from different industries to put on a fashion presentation. The team is already working on the next one for December 2017.

I’m also hard at work with my designer friends Nathaniel Bio and Michael Owusu creating the pieces for our first ready-to-wear collection, which will be unveiled in September 2017.

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