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Omar Victor Diop's 'Project Diaspora,' A Visual Pilgrimage Through Art History

'Project Diaspora,' the new series from Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop, is a visual pilgrimage through art history.

Images provided by Omar Victor Diop


New work from Omar Victor Diop, the Senegalese photographer behind the striking [re-]Mixing Hollywood (Onomollywood), Le Futur du Beau and Le Studio des Vanités projects, is always a cause for excitement. The artist returns this month with a photo series to debut at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which opens today in London. In a twelve-image set titled Project Diaspora, Diop showcases his penchant for vibrant colors and highly stylized portraits while again delving into the conversation about representation of Africans on the world stage.

This new body of work presents a slight departure from the artist's earlier fashion and fine art portrait photography, as for the first time, Diop himself is featured as the sole subject. According to Diop, Project Diaspora seeks to explore two major themes of identity and discovery and was conceived during a four month residency in Malaga, Spain, where he was confronted with the reality of his "otherness." For each self-portrait, Diop mimics original paintings of notable African men in European history while using football equipment as props. Diop explains a shared paradox between footballers and the original men in his portraits in an artist's statement which mentions that he chose to reference football "to show the duality of living a life of glory and recognition," while facing the challenges of being "other.”

With this project, which he told Okayafrica is a "sort of visual pilgrimage through Art history," Diop seeks to explore his own development as an artist and rectify the misconceptions of an all-white Europe by highlighting a historically accurate African presence. This first installment of the series focuses specifically on Africans in European history from the 15th through the 19th century, however Diop plans to expand the project to include the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas.

Omar Victor Diop's Project Diaspora is on display at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at London's Somerset House from October 16-19, before opening at Paris Photo (November 13-16).

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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