Strange beings, half-human or half-animal, on black backgrounds or sparkling colors… Omar Ba likes to blur the paths of understanding his works: “When I was in fine arts, my teachers always told me to start drawing or painting on a white background. I wanted to break this he explains to World. Everything seems truer to me, fairer with black, which also alludes to the color of my skin. Then, from this dark shade, spring light and colors, nature towards other skies. »
An imaginary, plural and hybrid bestiary
The beautiful book dedicated to the Senegalese artist, born in Dakar in 1977, extends the inaugural exhibition of the new New York space of the Templon gallery, which took place in September and October 2022. A first major monograph which reveals a powerful work, in constant metamorphosis. With the painter, the human, the animal and the divine question the ambivalence of the world, between civilization and barbarism, between past and future. From his canvases emerge creatures that challenge us, with a plastic vocabulary of great richness thanks to a variety of techniques and materials: oil, acrylic, gouache, pencil, Indian ink, Bic pen on canvas, mounted or corrugated cardboard. .
In his works, Omar Ba tries to decipher the stereotypes resulting from the complex relations between the Western world and the African continent. His compositions, dynamic and abundant, are loaded with signs where universes that seem opposed come together – nature and progress, tradition and modernity, inhumanity and respect –, thanks to an imaginary bestiary, plural and hybrid, harmless or disturbing. “Just to represent the world as it is, without trying to please, because in my work there is violence but also cheerfulness, sweetness and humor, as in life”emphasizes the artist.
Co-author of the book with Juliette Singer, chief heritage curator, Simon Njami, exhibition curator and art critic from Cameroon – and in particular co-founder of the magazine Dark magazine –, points out that “This fauna and flora that manifest themselves in an eccentric way are not only African, but concern all corners of the planet. Africa would thus become a metaphor for the challenges that we still have to meet: democracy, ecology, living together, acceptance of otherness are all themes addressed by (Omar Ba’s painting), which sometimes resembles a “lucid delirium”, as if these images had come out of him without his having full control of them”.
Originally from the Serer community while having a Fulani father, Omar Ba was raised in the culture of this ethnic group, third in number in Senegal after the Wolof and the Fulani. A caste society with initiation, the Serers are generally Christian or Muslim, while often being syncretists, practicing their ancient religion in parallel by integrating Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs and ancestral rites.
Very young, he begins to cover the walls of certain streets of Dakar with his animated forms, for his pleasure and that of passers-by. A graduate of the Beaux-Arts in Dakar in 2002 after three years of study, the artist pursued a third university cycle at the Beaux-Arts in Geneva, before attending the Ecole cantonale d’art du Valais, in Sierre, from 2009 to 2011. (Switzerland), recognized for its training in the fields of graphic design, printing and the visual arts.
The gaze must make its way
“Even if he now works on sheets of cardboard or canvas, he continues to weave a very special relationship between painting and life by addressing himself directly to “the man in the street”, to use a formula dear to Jean Dubuffet. This is perhaps one of Omar Ba’s great strengths: he is not targeting a specific, informed or targeted audience, but is potentially aimed at everyone, regardless of age, gender, background or origin. cultural. His work is no less demanding because, far from being immediate and simplistic, it requires concentration and a certain length of attention. says Juliette Singer.
For the head of contemporary art projects at the Petit Palais (Paris), the paintings of the Dakarois are only revealed in successive stages where the gaze must make its way to find its way between the telescoping of scales and the absence of perspective. His paintings seem to refer to ancient, founding times that human beings seek to remember. Perhaps the memory of these Serer tales heard in the intimacy of the home or within its community of belonging, with its share of ancestors, strange creatures, monsters and divinities.
Omar Ba’s work is all of this. “His painting makes me think of the descriptions made by the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola. She is resolutely animist., says Simon Njami. Inspired by her experience but also rooted in today’s world: “My sources of inspiration are history – especially that of Africa – current events, geopolitics, nature, ecology, humanity. » Without forgetting the Russian painter Chaïm Soutine, the American artists Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Andy Warhol or the South African William Kentridge… And, on the literary side, the Senegalese historian and anthropologist Cheikh Anta Diop or the African-American writer Toni Morrison .
Finally, visitors passing through the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, will be able to admire the work Trust Platform – Wealth Looting Behind Closed Doors 1, dating from 2016, which now enriches the permanent collections of the museum.
Omar Ba, by Simon Njami and Juliette Singer, ed. Skira – Templon, 224 pages, 130 illustrations, 39 euros.