The photographer Omar Victor Diop’s book offers a wealth of images foregrounding the altruism and resilience of Africans.
Senegalese Omar Victor Diop’s first monograph comes out as a joint publication by 5 Continents Editions and the Magnin-A Gallery, which has represented the artist since 2013. Printed in 2,000 copies, the book is full of subtle wisdom, just like the young artist. Born in 1980 in Dakar, Diop quickly became one of the representatives of a generation emancipated from clichés and open to visual dialogue, including digital retouching. While he identifies as an heir to African portraitists (Mama Casset, Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibé), he also admires Jean-Paul Goude. A confirmed autodidact, but, as he admitted to one of the monograph’s authors, Marvin Adoul, an autodidact who keeps good company: “Truth be told, we never learn anything without others.”
Diop likes to evoke other influences, such as the writer Maryse Condé and her family of characters in Segu, “whose terrible fates foreshadowed the end to the torment and the affirmation of a free Africa.” Or yet Senegalese reverse glass paintings, with reference to his latest series, “Allegoria” (2021), which he wanted to imbue with “religious dignity, a cross between peaceful contemplation, like Saint Francis of Assisi watching over the species, and playfulness, like Orpheus enchanting nature.”
One could also say that the richness which Omar Victor Diop, through his sources of inspiration, injects into his work transforms his cultural borrowings into a true personal treasure. His inimitable style, a fusion of fantasy and storytelling, is recognizable as much for its bold colors as it is for the natural way it brings design and a certain idea of fashion into his art. Omar Victor Diop does not force himself to be modern or pop: he just is, and this contemporaneity is such a strong asset that it attracts the public and collectors.
This attraction is not a mirror effect. The themes reflect the preoccupations of this Dakar native who is in love with a world that has respect for life. When he puts himself on stage, it is him there and there, and yet it is not him. We are far from the classic self-portrait on the ruins of narcissism; we are in the real, in the heart of true stories: the struggle of Black populations — against oblivion, against stereotypes. All his roles, from Dom Nicolau to Jean-Baptiste Belley, to Dutty Boukman and August Sabac el Cher, are more than just roles of composition. They are a way of taking a stand, an exigent, deliberate way of showing how the medium, beneath symbolic appearances, can provoke the eye and spark reflection. It is not a question of making claims or of complaining, but of affirming the “vitality and the influence of Africans.” This is what makes this artist so endearing. It takes grace and modesty to remain someone who is awake and full of wonder, who leaps with ease from one century or from one continent to the next. This ease is perhaps the last quality of Omar Victor Diop which one imagines requires meticulous preparation behind the scenes to be able to play against the ravages of time.
By Brigitte Ollier
Brigitte Ollier is a journalist based in Paris. She has worked for over thirty years for the newspaper Libération, where she contributed to the fame of the column “Photographie.” She is the author of several books about a few memorable photographers.
Omar Victor Diop, published jointly by 5 Continents Editions and the Magnin-A Gallery, €39, 96 pp. Texts by Renée Mussai, Imani Perry, and Marvin Adoul.
In 2014, Editions de l’œil published a Carnet de la création devoted to Omar Victor Diop.