Omar Victor Diop: Liberty / Diaspora exhibition

03 August 2018


Closes: 3rd November 2018

In his first solo exhibition in the UK, Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop, recasts history and the global politics of black resistance.

Liberty: A Universal Chronology of Black Protest reinterprets defining moments of historical revolt and black struggle in Africa and the diaspora, exploring what unifies and defines these fights for freedom and human rights. These images challenge monolithic history-telling, featuring key events such as the Alabama marches on Washington (Selma 1965), lesser known resistance movements against colonial oppression in southeastern Nigeria (The Women’s War 1929) and the more recent Million Hoodie March in New York triggered by the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, whose death inspired the Black Lives Matter campaigns.

Diop appears as the main character throughout the series, enacting different roles including African railway workers, French migrants, Second World War soldiers, Jamaican maroons and members of the Black Panther Party.

Rich in detail and symbolism, the elaborately staged tableaux commemorate slave revolts, independence movements, social justice campaigns and the events that sparked them – a testament to the power of collective organising, community campaigning and the enduring spirit of resistance. For Diop, they constitute ‘a reinvented narrative of the history of black people, and therefore, the history of humanity and of the concept of Freedom.’

The artist also acts as protagonist in Project Diaspora. Largely based on historical paintings, he reinterprets these honorific portraits imbuing them with contemporary football references.

Celebrating four centuries of notable Africans in the diaspora, he illuminates the tensions of discovery, glory and recognition while facing the challenges of being framed as ‘other’. Diop imagines how these paradoxes are shared between modern day footballers in Europe and the sitters in the paintings. 

The series features an intriguing cast of Africans in European history from the 15th to the 19th centuries. We encounter Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the abolitionist leader who was most photographed person of his time; and Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) a freed slave, writer and prominent activist in London. Other figures include St Bénédicte de Palermo (1526-1589), a saint in the Catholic and Lutheran church; Prince Dom Nicolau (c.1830-1860), a Congolose African leader; August Sabac El Cher (c.1836-1885), an early Afro-German soldier; and Jean-Baptise Belley (1746-1805), who fought during the French Revolution.

In the artist’s own words: ‘Football is an interesting global phenomenon that for me often reveals where society is in terms of race. When you look at the way that the African football royalty is perceived in Europe, there is an interesting blend of glory, hero-worship and exclusion. Every so often, you get racist chants or banana skins thrown on the pitch and the whole illusion of integration is shattered in the most brutal way. It’s that kind of paradox I am investigating in the work.’ 

About Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop (b. 1980, Dakar, Senegal) developed his interest in photography and design at an early age and uses the medium to capture the diversity of modern African societies and lifestyles. Following acclaim for his early conceptual projects, he left his career in corporate communications to pursue life as an artist.

Diop’s body of work includes fine art, fashion and portrait photography – including The Studio of Vanities, a series of staged portraits showing the new faces of art and culture scenes in African urban centres. Diop fuses photography with other art forms, and often incorporates costume design, styling and creative writing to give life to his projects.

Since his inclusion in the Rencontres de Bamako, Mali (2011) Diop’s work has been included in exhibitions in Europe and Africa, most recently as part of ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana Readings, a collateral project of the MANIFESTA European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Palermo, Italy (2018). Solo shows include Institut Français de Dakar/ Biennale de lʼArt Africain Contemporain de Dakar (2012), Hôtel ONOMO, Dakar at the Maison de l'Afrique, Paris (2013) and at the Allianza Franceza de Màlaga, Spain (2014).

Diop currently lives in Dakar, and works between Paris, New York and Sengal.

Rivington Place


Picture copyright: Omar Victor Diop, Thiaroye 1944. From Liberty (2016). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris. In 1944, the Senegalese Tirailleurs (West African soldiers who fought in the colonial infantry in the French Army during the Second World War) were released from German prisons and repatriated with the promise of remuneration, including pensions. These infantrymen came from all over the A.O.F. and the A.E.F. (French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa), which stretched from Senegal to the Congo. On 1 December 1944, a group of soldiers staged a military coup at the Thiaroye camp on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, to protest against poor working conditions and France’s failure to compensate them for their service as promised. A bloody repression was organised by the colonial authorities in response, during which approximately 70 of these Second World War veterans were killed. Commonly known as the Thiaroye Massacre, the mutiny is seen as a crucial revolt against the colonial regime that constituted the beginnings of a nationalist movement.