The striking photographs of Senegalese contemporary artist Omar Victor Diop (b. 1980) capture modern African sensibilities, and often focus on a recasting of history, the representation of diasporic experiences and global politics of black resistance. Combining photography with other art forms, Diop’s remarkable body of work includes fine art, fashion, design, and portrait photography. Using artistic self-portraiture as a key tool to engage with complex representational politics, community embodiment and ideas of self-fashioning, his practice is characterized by meticulously staged, dramatic imagery in which the artist himself appears as the main visual protagonist and interlocutor.
This exhibition brings together three of Diop’s most emblematic bodies of works – Diaspora, Liberty and Allegoria – for the first time, presented alongside Windrush, a special Autograph artist commission never exhibited before.
Diaspora (2014) draws inspiration from 15th to 19th century Western portraits depicting a diverse constituency of black figures who have risen to prominence in courts, science, politics, and social movements in Europe – yet often missing from conventional narratives. Largely based on historical paintings, which Diop imbues with playful contemporary references, the series celebrates four centuries of notable Africans with extraordinary lives in the diaspora.
In Liberty (2017), subtitled A Universal Chronology of Black Protest, the artist reinterprets significant moments of historical revolt associated with the struggle for black freedom – from anti-Apartheid movements in South Africa to civil right campaigns in America, the Caribbean and Europe to contemporary Black Lives Matter politics, exploring what unifies and defines these ongoing, global fights for equality and human rights.
Diop’s most recent project Allegoria (2021), unveiled at Paris Photo in November 2021, imaginatively addresses the climate crisis and its impact on the Global South and the African continent especially. In these vibrant metaphorical, paradisiacal images, Diop is pictured amidst stunning imagery of carefully constructed flora and fauna – here, openly borrowing from genres that include classical painting, religious iconography and West African photographic studio portraiture, as well as science textbooks and encyclopaedia, the artist considered the fate of humanity in the wake of natural disasters and environmental decline, asking how we may secure more viable, liveable futures together.
In 2018, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush, Autograph invited Diop to create two new artworks in response to iconic archive images in their collection. The Windrush portraits capture West Indian migrants from the Caribbean beginning a new life in Great Britain in the late 1940s: a watershed moment at first filled with hope and anticipation, soon followed by the harsh reality of discrimination, hardship and unemployment.
Presented in collaboration with Autograph, London and Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris, Omar Victor Diop draws on the original 2018 Autograph exhibition (co-curated by Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy). This touring iteration for the Turku Art Museum is organised by Renée Mussai and reflects the accompanying new artist monograph Omar Victor Diop (5 Continents Editions, 2021).