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African Diasporas, Playing with the Past

Jean-Philippe deDieu | NY Times   in  ·
December 13, 2014

Omar Victor Diop, a Senegalese photographer, was feeling out of place during an artist residency in Málaga, Spain, when he discovered the seminal series “The Image of the Black in Western Art.” In it, he found centuries-old Western paintings from the Menil Collection in Houston that depicted people of African descent from the Renaissance to the emergence of the slave trade. As an African who was educated in Paris, he was aware of the long history of marginalizing the African diaspora in European museums. Understandably, he was captivated by what he saw.

“As a Francophone African,” he said, “I had never heard of these individuals.”

He has since made up for that oversight, producing “Project Diaspora,” a set of 12 images Mr. Diop adapted from artworks created in Europe from the 15th to the 19th centuries. They represent outstanding individuals who lived in Europe and illustrate the historical depth of the ties that have linked the Western world to the African continent.

In each image, Mr. Diop poses as the person in the original engraving, painting or sculpture. “I enjoy the idea that, contrary to the conventional self-portrait, I am just an accessory,” he said during a Skype interview. “My goal is to bear witness to the contribution of Africans to universal civilization.”

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