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.’
Omar Victor Diop LIBERTY / DIASPORA
until 3 November 2018
London EC2A 3BA
Featured image: Omar Victor Diop, Thiaroye 1944, 2016.