“Heritage” is a loaded word: a resource and a millstone both. Omar Victor Diop—the Dakar born and based photographer—embraces African lineage as a fortunate fellowship. He culls some fifty images from the rich archive of portrait photography that flourished throughout the African continent in the mid-twentieth century. In 2016, Diop explored the continuity between this studio tradition and the present in a show at Galerie du jour agnès b. that juxtaposed his depiction of a contemporary generation of creatives with Malick Sidibé’s effervescent Bamako cool kids. Here, the references have multiplied and the legacy has deepened. In a joyful homage, Diop traces his aesthetic debts through the exhibition space, celebrating the energy and poise of dapper figures documented by Jean Depara and the exquisitely acrobatic hairstyles catalogued by J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. Diop’s Adama, 2013—with its poised sitter clothed in and backgrounded by resplendent peach pleats—hangs with tightly-framed black-and-white 1950s portraits by Senegalese photographer Mama Casset, featuring women in ruffled dresses and elaborate coifs festooned with shells, scarves, or spangles. Decades apart, the appreciation of textile and texture remains.
But Diop also uses photography to correct the historical record, addressing the way Black identities have been exploited and denied. La mutinerie de Freeman Field, 1945, 2017, in which he photographs himself in triplicate wearing a cinched trench, is from his “Liberty” series, recounting moments of Black history omitted from public narrative. (The photo is placed alongside Malick Sidibé’s Les trois agents du FBI, 1976, featuring three boys warily eyeing the camera, in a formal echo.) Freeman Field was an American Air Force Base built during World War II. In 1945, African-American soldiers stationed there broke into a club exclusively reserved for white officers, demanding integration. Diop’s work reckons with this exclusion, because that is a heritage, too.