The Past Reimagined

Omar Victor Diop (b. 1980) uses self-portraiture to highlight Black histories overlooked by Eurocentric societies. “My attention was drawn to portraits of Africans depicted in postures of grandeur and dignity, by renowned artists like Diego Velázquez or Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, which would normally be commissioned by popes, kings and rich merchants. I wanted to know more about who these sumptuous African sitters were, and that’s how the historical research began. I found a trove of fascinating personal stories: resilient, creative and influential human beings who thrived all over the world, despite the horrific contexts in which they lived. I describe these men I pay homage to as forgotten African heroes.”

Diaspora (2014) draws from 15th to 19th century western portraits, including pictures of Malik Ambar (1549 – 1626). As a child, Ambar was sold by his parents in an effort to alleviate their poverty. He later grew up to become Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate. Elsewhere, we see Prince Dom Nicolau (c. 1830-1860), who is thought to be the earliest African leader publicly protesting colonial rule, and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a social reform activist, writer and statesman who escaped slavery and joined the abolitionist movement – becoming the first African American nominated for US Vice President.

Liberty (2017) restages moments associated with the struggle for Black freedom, and Allegoria (2021) addresses the climate crisis and its impact on the Global South – especially Africa. Diop’s message is clear: he asks us to imagine, and learn, a more just, accurate version of our shared human history.

Fotografiska Berlin, Omar Victor Diop | Until 21 April

Words: Eleanor Sutherland

Image Credits:

  1. Omar Victor Diop, Allegoria 4 (2021). © Omar Victor Diop. Commissioned by Autograph.
  2. Omar Victor Diop, Allegoria 13 (2021). © Omar Victor Diop. Commissioned by Autograph.
  3. Omar Victor Diop, The Women’s War 1929 . From Liberty (2016). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN – A, Paris.