Omar Victor Diop, Omar Victor Diop

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2022 by 5 Continents Editions (here) and Magnin-A Gallery. Hardcover (23.5 x 31 cm), 86 pages, with 45 color illustrations. Includes essays by Renée Mussai, Imani Perry and Marvin Adoul (in French and English). Design by Agnès Dahan Studio. In an edition of 2000 copies. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Omar Victor Diop is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes the book in a box with an original inkjet print on Canson Infinity Arches 88 paper (29.7 x 21 cm), signed and numbered by the artist. Edition of 100 and 10 artist’s proofs, signed and numbered.

Comments/Background: Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop’s first monograph, simply titled Omar Victor Diop, reviews the three major series that have earned him international notoriety. His practice is based on the African tradition of studio photography and on the heritage of African portrait painters Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Mama Casset. In his images, Diop meticulously stages his installations and usually appears as their main visual protagonist. Her dramatic self-portraits revisit historical moments and celebrate the history of black resistance. Diop says about his choice of self-portrait: “A self-portrait is a way for me to get involved in a cause and to support and defend an idea. A self-portrait also gives me more flexibility. It allows me to create multiple reproductions of myself. I feel at ease in this exercise, which I appreciate very much.

Omar Victor Diop is a hardcover book with an elegant and simple design. The photograph on the cover shows the artist standing, looking straight into the camera and holding an exotic blue bird while an illustration of flowers frames the image at the bottom. The edges of the page are in sugar blue, a refined design element. Inside, the color photographs vary slightly in their sizes and placement, but still have the same white border around them, creating a sense of cohesive visual flow. The book is divided into three parts, each comprising a series, organized according to a reverse chronology: “Allegoria” (2021), “Liberty” (2017) and “Diaspora” (2014).

Diop says he sees his various projects as chapters in a story, referring to the past, present and future. The book opens with the “Allegoria” series, which imaginatively addresses the current environmental crisis, and in particular its impact on the African continent. In his meticulously constructed images, Diop uses cut-outs from vintage encyclopedias of transnational flora and fauna as raw material. In the photograph titled “Allegoria 2, 2021”, the artist stands in a black outfit with his eyes closed, holding a turtle in his hands, with a small bird resting on his shoulder, and at the bottom of the image there is has a thick swamp plant, a dog hidden in its leaves, and a bird flying away from the frame. Compositions like this capture both a sense of environmental unease and a meditative hope for recovery.

Diop’s “Liberty” series focuses on events related to black protests across time and space, through the prism of allegory. Through these images, Diop traces and connects black resistance movements in Africa and its diaspora to a larger history and sense of identity. His photographs depict the Alabama marches on Washington, lesser-known resistance movements against colonial oppression in southeastern Nigeria in 1929, and student protests in South Africa in 1976. “The way history has been told over the past decades, the contribution of Africa and its children has been reduced to almost nothing. That’s what I’m trying to fix.

In his gripping tribute to Trayvon Martin, a teenager whose death helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement, Diop depicts himself lying on a bed of Skittles (Trayvon was carrying a pack of Skittles when George Zimmerman shot him) wearing a sweatshirt hooded. The image on the right reflects Martin’s position in a photo titled “Aline Sitoé Diatta, 1944, 2017”, evoking a figure of the Senegalese anti-colonial resistance and community leader. Viewed together, these images create a powerful narrative about the global politics of black resistance.

The last part of the book is dedicated to the “Diaspora” series. Diop again turns to history, focusing on African and African-American notables and their impact on European history. The series consists of eighteen self-portraits (based on historical paintings) in which Diop embodies these extraordinary figures. He also recontextualizes them by including contemporary details related to soccer: a ball, a red card, goalkeeper gloves, a whistle or shoes. In one image, he acts as Dom Nicolau, Prince of Kongo, probably the first African leader who wrote publicly to oppose colonial influences. There are also portraits of freed slaves, including Olaudah Equiano, who supported Britain’s abolitionist movement in the 18th century. “Diaspora” is about African grandeur, blending historical grandeur with a touch of modern relevance.

As a photobook, Diop’s self-titled investigation is an unpretentious and subtly elegant publication, drawing the viewer’s attention to its gripping content, linking his various projects in a complete circle. The photobook is also an important contribution to the conversation on the presentation of the African diaspora. As Diop recasts history, he also encourages us to think about environmental justice and collaborative survival. Omar Victor Diop offers an excellent overview of the artist’s work and its nuanced themes of history, identity and representation.

Collector’s point of view: Omar Victor Diop is represented by Galerie Magnin-A in Paris (here). His work has yet to find its way to secondary markets, so gallery retail probably remains the best option for interested collectors to follow.

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