Harper’s Bazaar Arabia ART: On Omar Viktor Diop

Credit: Omar Viktor Diop

The first time Omar Viktor Diop had to sit for a studio portrait, it did not go well. It was his first year in an all-boys primary Catholic school in Dakar and the school had arranged for all students to be photographed. Diop remembers it well: the photographer set up a grey fabric as a background, had him sit in front of the camera But the result? A boy in school uniform, wide-eyed with fear. “I found it intimidating,” says the artist of his current practice and his takeaway from that incident. “It informed the way I initiate relationships with my sitters. It is like going to the dentist. It needs to be fast and not painful.”

He has had less threatening encounters since, growing up in a pre-Instagram age where graduations, independence days, weddings and other special occasions were documented exclusively in fleshy photo albums and from sessions in photo studios. The albums were a staple of the average West African household, a social document to be shared with visitors to pore over, which told stories of the often glamorously appointed people in them, filled awkward silences and and invited nostalgic conversations. This is the work photography greats such as Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta and Mama Casset created and what Diop now draws inspiration from, today…

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