Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop never fails to push conceptual boundaries. Fresh on the heels of his acclaimed photography series “Re-Mixing Hollywood,” which re-cast Africans in photographs inspired by French and American cinema classics, Diop takes up the mantle of identity and discovery for his latest effort, “Project Diaspora.” Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng interviewed Diop on how his professional and personal journeys inspire his current work.
How did you first become interested in art? Has photography always been your medium of choice?
I think I have always been very interested in art, even though I had never been exposed to any form of artistic training growing up. I used to look at all forms of art, and especially photography, as a sort of fantasy, a forbidden land where a very few fortunate minds could enter. As I was a rather good student, I graduated from a master’s program in a French business school and started a very promising career in financial consulting and later in corporate affairs, which led me to work in various parts of Africa like Kenya and Nigeria. In 2010, I started with landscape photography as a hobby and as a way to get familiar with the technical aspects of photography. A few months later, I submitted my first project, “Le Futur du Beau” (“The Future of Beauty”) to the Biennial of Bamako and I was featured in the official selection of that event; this was the beginning of my career in photography.
Are there any differences in how you approach fine art photography versus fashion photography?
I’m tempted to say that I don’t draw a border between the two forms of expression. The only difference would be that the freedom in fine art photography is absolute, whereas in fashion photography, what really matters is the vision of the designer, the original concept. The photographer’s artistic opinion is just a complement.
What experiences lead to the genesis of the idea for Project Diaspora?
I have always been attracted by the life journeys of strangers, travelers, and aliens. Diaspora is a way for me to tell the stories of these forgotten pioneers who managed to influence the various societies in which they were brought to, as slaves, students, or exotic creatures. I also wanted to give a new perspective to the current debate on the issue of immigration of Africans, because it tends to be seen as a new phenomenon, whereas the interactions between Africa and the rest of the world are much more ancient.
Why did you decide to make yourself the subject of the portraits in Project Diaspora?
Self-portraits are a way for me to dig further into my portrait technique, as it is a very challenging exercise, both technically and emotionally. It was very easy for me to identify with most of these characters, because I’ve been exposed to the realities of being young, African, and a stranger, sometimes in places where I wasn’t expected.
Do you have any plans to expand the project? How do you think that your style of addressing such a subject will differ if you explore different regions?
I absolutely want to expand this project to other regions (the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia), mainly because that would allow me to unveil more untold stories and also because the story of Africans throughout the centuries should not just be told in relation to Europe… there’s a bigger story to tell.
What is the role of art and photography to you?
Art is the only conversation in which what matters is not who’s right or wrong. It’s a way to share a vision, a dream, to elevate one’s mind and to offer intimate fears and hope, sometimes with very little words… that’s essential!
Do you have any advice to budding African artists?
Get out there! Share your vision with the world. Generosity is key. You might not be able to control the perceptions that the world has of you and your art (especially as an African), but you have the absolute power to express yourself the exact way you want… that is power.