Omar Victor Diop’s staged photographic portraits are fascinating interpretations of how cultural events and prominent figures are portrayed throughout history. Diop’s depictions of key African figures in Project Diaspora and Liberty: A Universal Chronology of Black Protest are, as the artist has stated, intended to create “a reinvented narrative of the history of black people, and therefore, the history of humanity and of the concept of Freedom.”
From the 1929 rebellion of thousands of Nigerian women against oppressive British Colonial rule to the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, which fought for African American voting rights, Diop’s photographs explore the struggle for freedom and human rights.
Diop positions himself as the main protagonist in Liberty: A Universal Chronology of Black Protest, which challenges the authority of historical narratives. The photographer takes on the role of French migrants, World War II soldiers, African railway workers, Black Panther Party members and Jamaican Maroons in an effort to better understand the spirit of resistance and to celebrate the power of collective campaigns in making an impact.
For his Project Diaspora series, Diop takes inspiration from historical paintings of notable Africans in the diaspora to reimagine Africa’s presence within European history.
Through a contemporary lens, Diop takes on the guises of prominent characters, including the African American social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Islamic scholar Omar Ibn Saïd and Swedish court servant and diarist Gustav Badin.
As well as presenting historic individuals, Diop inserts unexpected contemporary football references such as red cards and plastic whistles to draw comparisons between the portraits’ sitters and contemporary football players.
As Diop explains in a release for his show at Autograph in London’s East End: “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.”
Omar Victor Diop: Liberty/Diaspora is at Autograph, Rivington Place, London, EC2A 3BA until 3 November 2018. Entry is free.
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