Omar Victor Diop’s Self-Portraits Mix Old And New

Omar Victor Diop is a chameleon with a purpose: that of globally spreading a vision of Africa not so widespread, or rather, forgotten. He does so by impersonating the continent’s iconic figures, who, against all odds, climbed Western social ladders during the times of colonisation and slavery. Angelo Soliman an abducted slave child turned confidant of Habsburg Emperor Josef II, Mozart, and Haydn successively, is one of them. The historical excavation of said unsung heroes unravels as an alternative reality of the African civilisation and its presence outside of the continent, all while constituting a self discovery process for the Senegalese artist.

Gathered in the evocatively titled Diaspora series, Diop’s photographic self-portraits cleverly melange Baroque and African contemporary culture by inserting elements of the latter into the artist’s arms, most usually in the form of football accessories.

The anachronistic juxtapositions of period costumes and polished sneakers, gloves, and balls contribute to a lightness that frees Diop’s narrative from its weighty features. Once grasped,  humorous subtleties propel the storytelling through epochs to reach contemporary issues encountered by Africans outside of Africa, such as social integration in countries that exercise rigorous administrative measures.

Although aesthetic comparisons have been drawn between Diop’s Diaspora and the oeuvres of Seydou Keita, Samuel Fossos, and Malick Sidibe, what strikes first and foremost is an ideological parallel with Fatou Diome. The Senegalese writer has recently highlighted a proclivity towards selective immigration in Western European countries, where added value in any form of talent constitutes the guarantee of a passport. The sordid truth seems to weave through the solemn poses of Diop’s Africans, who exhibit their sports accessories with an unexpected pride—that of someone holding an entry permit to an otherwise unattainable destination.

Marina Iordan

Marina Iordan is a Dubai based art professional, specialising in art from the Middle East and Arab world.