Gigantic figures painted on a dark background take over the large-size cardboard panels exhibited by Omar Ba at the Brussels Templon gallery. With their animal heads, colourful attire and proud posture, they stand there, stare back at us and radiate. Beware! Pay attention!
Painted on corrugated cardboard, Omar Ba’s works speak of post-colonialism, power, and the exploitation of Africa. Yet, this Senegalese artist born in Dakar in 1977 is interested in establishing a dialogue. Even though he initially produced abstract paintings, he realised that his works were not understood when he moved to Geneva in 2003. They were not generating a dialogue between the viewer and himself. Ba decided to mix abstract and figurative art as a result. And eventually produced these richly dressed characters, the compounded hybridization of his native culture and the influences of the society he now lives in. “I am inspired by what I see around me,” he explained to us. “In all of us, there is an animal. But I also like storytelling, fairy tales.”
The paintings share the common title of Plateforme de la confiance (Platform of trust). Under this heading which should be understood tongue in cheek, Omar Ba illustrates themes such as the pillaging of Africa behind closed doors, the fisheries agreements with China, depleting the oceans and preventing Senegalese fishermen from making a living, or the international criminal court which tends to judge primarily Africans… “The half-animal/half-human characters play with their power. Power, that is a kind of relationship between the one who has the power and the one who doesn’t have it,” he added.
Bright reds, whites and golds, glossy blues on a black background: the artist’s palette unfolds in a silky and matte texture, using acrylic, oil, and pencil on cardboard. Runny colours. Wavy lines. Feathers and fur… Recurring symbols and shapes: feather, leaf, beads, microphones, fish, and white waters are taken from African culture. The richly adorned outfits, too. This taste for stylish clothes, smart looks. Bridging the gap with Geneva, where he now lives, the artist has invented a carnival of baroque and disturbing, proud and powerful characters. At the back of the gallery, a composition on cardboard boxes spans an entire wall. The empty boxes symbolize the lost files, those of Senegalese soldiers.
Omar Ba studied at the School of Fine Arts in Dakar and later Geneva, where he has been residing ever since 2003. He has taken part in numerous international exhibitions, including the Dakar Biennale in 2014. He received the Swiss Art Prize in 2011. This is his first solo exhibition at the Templon gallery, which now represents him. A fantastic find!
Galerie Daniel Templon
13 A rue Veydt
Until 23 July
Tuesdays – Saturdays, from 11:00h to 18:00h