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 spread shots below.)
Omar Victor Diop is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes the book in a boxed set with an original inkjet print on Canson Infinity Arches 88 paper (29.7 x 21 cm), signed and numbered by the artist. In an edition of 100 copies and 10 artist’s proofs, signed and numbered.
Comments/Context: The first monograph by the Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop, simply titled Omar Victor Diop, surveys the three major series that have brought him international attention. His practice expands on the African tradition of studio photography, and the legacy of the African portraitists Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, and Mama Casset. In his images, Diop meticulously stages his setups and usually appears as their main visual protagonist. His dramatic self-portraits revisit historical moments and celebrate the history of Black resistance. Diop says about his choice of self-portraiture: “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 really enjoy.”
Omar Victor Diop is a hardcover book with an elegant and straightforward design. The photograph on the cover shows the artist standing, looking straight in the camera and holding an exotic blue bird while an illustration of flowers frames the image at the bottom. The page edges are in sugar blue, a fine design element. Inside, the color photographs slightly vary in their sizes and placement, but always have the same white border around them, creating a sense of consistent visual flow. The book is divided into three parts, each featuring a series, organized in a reverse chronology: “Allegoria” (2021), “Liberty” (2017), and “Diaspora” (2014).
Diop says that he sees his various projects as chapters in a story, referring to the past, the present, and the future. The book opens with the “Allegoria” series, which imaginatively addresses the current environmental crisis, and particularly its impact on the African continent. In his meticulously constructed images, Diop uses cut-outs from vintage encyclopedias of transnational flora and fauna as his raw material. In the photograph titled “Allegoria 2, 2021”, the artist stands in black outfit with his eyes closed, holding a turtle in his hands, with a tiny bird resting on his shoulder, and at the bottom of the image, there is a thick swamp plant, a dog hiding in its leaves, and a bird walking away out of the frame. Compositions like this one capture both a sense of environmental unease and a meditative hope for recovery.
Diop’s series “Liberty” focuses on events linked to Black protests across time and space, through the lens of allegory. Through these images, Diop traces and links movements of Black resistance from 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-led demonstrations in South Africa in 1976. “The way history has been told in the last few decades, the contribution of Africa and its children has been reduced to almost nothing. That’s what I’m trying to correct.”
In his striking 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 carried a pack of Skittles when George Zimmerman shot him) wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The image on the right mirrors Martin’s position in a photo titled “Aline Sitoé Diatta, 1944, 2017”, evoking a Senegalese anti-colonial resistance figure and community leader. Seen together, these images create a powerful narrative about the global politics of Black resistance.
The final part of the book is dedicated to the “Diaspora” series. Diop again turns to history, focusing on notable Africans and African-Americans 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, goalie gloves, a whistle, or shoes. In one picture, he acts as Dom Nicolau, prince of Kongo, probably the earliest African ruler who wrote publicly to object to colonial influences. There are also portraits of freed slaves, including Olaudah Equiano, who supported the British abolitionist movement in the 18th century. “Diaspora” is about African greatness, mixing historical grandeur with a splash of modern relevance.
As a photobook, Diop’s self titled survey is an unpretentious and subtly elegant publication, focusing the viewer’s attention on its striking content, linking his various projects into a full circle. The photobook is also an important contribution to the conversation about 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 POV: Omar Victor Diop is represented by Magnin-A Gallery in Paris (here). His work has not yet consistently found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.