A building with an almost harmless moucharabieh facade in Almadies, a residential district of Dakar, to the west of the Cape Verde peninsula. It is here that lives one of the most promising photographers of his generation and rising star of his art at only 41 years old: Omar Victor Diop. And that’s where he works, alone, in his Vanity Studio.
Once in the house, the feeling of banality immediately fades: an open space of 150 m2, organized around a huge skylight overhead, with a small impluvium to promote circulation of fresh air. Palm trees, banana trees, birds of paradise and traveler’s trees live there very well. Because the photographer is also a gardener and has a green thumb: on the roof terrace, the artist cultivates herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, pomegranates, mandarins, grapefruits, lemons, zucchini, pumpkins and guavas.
“The site lasted almost two years. I went to see architects in Dakar with fairly precise plans. Very little has been changed. This house marks my anchoring in Senegal. Because it is a privilege to be able to live from my art and not to live in the exile of the African artist like the previous generation ”, specifies Omar Victor Diop.
In another life, the artist worked as an executive in a multinational after a master’s degree in management obtained in Dakar then another in project management at ESCP in Paris. The last child of a sibling of six (three girls and three boys, in order, same father, same mother), his responsibilities leave him little free time. On weekends, he enjoys photography, his Ingres violin.
“A narrative proposal of African reality”
Thinking that this world is not accessible to him as a professional, he who did not follow an initial training in art school, he posts his photos without conviction on his Facebook profile. But it is counting without the insistence of a friend who makes him understand that his work is worthy of the gaze of the jury of the African Meetings of Photography in Bamako (Mali). We are in 2011.
André Magnin, curator and contemporary art gallery owner, remembers his first “meeting” with Omar Victor Diop: “I ‘discovered’ it ten years ago. It was at the Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles. There were many posters of the off festival on the gates that separate the boulevard des Lices from the Summer Garden. I spotted one that featured a woman sitting in a very elegant position wearing a dress made of plastic bottles with blue highlights. I found this image very beautiful and it is from that moment that I got it into my head to look for the author and to meet him. “
It was only a few months later that the two men met in Paris. At the time, the artist had no representative and appreciated the programming of the André Magnin gallery. In particular, of course, that of the great precursors of African studio photography: the Malians Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) and Malick Sidibé (1936-2016), the Senegalese Mama Casset (1908-1992) or the artist of Cameroonian origin. Samuel Fosso (born 1962). And that’s how the Frenchman, who appreciates “The quality of his work”, offers him exclusivity in order to manage the proposals that are starting to arrive from all over the world.
His work, precisely, Omar Victor Diop defines it as follows: “A narrative proposal of African reality based on my experience, my past, such as I discovered it in my research. For me, it is about speaking out as a child of Africa aware of his place in the world and concerned about the quality of the representation which is made of his peoples. “
“Like a very trendy trombinoscope”
And it all started with the series The future of beauty. At the time, he photographed in his backyard with a fairly basic camera: “It was a desire to revise the ecological discourse a bit and to try to have a playful approach that would speak to an audience less open to scientific information and with a less accusatory tone. I created a wardrobe from the waste of my own consumption by recycling what I had under my arm. “
Then came the series of Vanities Studio. A set that will not have “Probably no end”. Like a journal of the encounters that Omar Victor Diop makes in his artistic journey. “Like a very trendy trombinoscope. “ Hoping to get out soon from this strange period due to the pandemic and give free rein to the desire for new encounters with the camera.
With the series Diaspora, the inspirations are multiple. We go from baroque painting with Juan de Pareja (Diego Vélasquez’s assistant) to neoclassical and romantic painting with the portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley (a French revolutionary born on the island of Gorée in the 18th century).e century) painted by Anne-Louis Girodet, then to photographs by Frederick Douglass (a freed slave who became an American editor and civil servant in the 19th century).e century)… “A collection of 18 characters torn from their continent, whose destinies, although they could be told in a heroic way, must have been very lonely”, specifies the photographer.
The artist draws illustrations from botanical and natural history textbooks from the 17th century.e and XVIIIe centuries. “Fictitious flora and fauna that men, in this case me, find themselves cuddling in a spirit of regret. The day when we will have destroyed this nature, we will only have the memory of it », he emphasizes.
“The fight and the dynamics remain the same”
Thanks to Liberty, the subject is more political. The whole highlights the different resistance movements that have involved blacks. This is the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was shot dead in Florida in February 2012, when he was unarmed, by a Latin American who was monitoring a closed residence. Starting point of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Or the student revolts in Soweto under apartheid in 1976, the Black Panthers, the first successful slave revolt in Haiti in 1791 (which would lead to the world’s first free black republic in 1804). Without forgetting Aline Sitoé Diatta, “Senegalese Joan of Arc”, peasant from Casamance, feminine and feminist face of the resistance to the French colonial power with mystical powers, died in exile in a prison in Timbuktu (Mali) at the age of 24 in 1944 …
“The fight and the dynamics remain the same. It is much more than the fight of blacks, it is the fight for justicece. One can consider Diaspora and Liberty [où Omar Victor Diop n’hésite pas à se mettre en scène] like the two volumes of the same work. Finally, the subject is the place of the black man and the black woman in the past and the present ”, says the artist. What about the future? It will be Allegory, with in particular a tribute to the traditions of African textiles to which the photographer is very attached. With a very graphic composition, “Very saturated”. “But the project is still in the kitchen …”, he said.
For Mabeye Deme, also Senegalese photographer, “The subjects [d’Omar Victor Diop] are proud. There is not a victim side. The importance of the device – the decorations, the fabrics, the staging – shows a photograph that is not meant to be naturalistic. This political sensitivity touches me a lot ”.
The photographer, popular with collectors, was chosen for create the poster for the Africa2020 season, an extraordinary project desired by President Emmanuel Macron and designed around the major challenges of the 21st centurye century in order to promote and promote the various initiatives of civil society on the continent and its diaspora. A poster without clichés: “No camels, no wax, no arabesque, [mais] to promote proud, modern, inventive young Africans ”, specifies Souheil Ben Ali, artistic director at Insign agency, who worked on the event.
Finally, André Magnin entrusted the keys of his gallery to the artist. Located in the XIe arrondissement of Paris, from April 17 (date of the end of the new confinement), we can admire the exhibition Heritage, dedicated to the great portrait painters of the continent (Mama Casset, Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Jean Depara or Ambroise Ngaimoko). For the gallery owner, it is “To celebrate this year my thirty years of relationship with photography in general and African photography in particular. And to celebrate ten years of my collaboration with Omar Victor Diop ”.