Artist Omar Ba, a rising star of contemporary African art, caused a sensation at the Dakar Biennale

“He reinvents painting!” It is in these enthusiastic terms that Malik Ndiaye, artistic director of the Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art, mentions Omar Ba, the author of both a poetic and a mysterious work.

Although some of his work is on display at the Biennale, it is in the serenity of his Senegalese studio, inhabited by birdsong, that the artist begins the canvas on the floor using a deep black background. Prejudice in the genesis of his dedicated work, which calls into question the state of the world and the place of Africa. This black background “It’s like night: perspective can be lost … but for me every subject and everything finds its place”, he confessed to AFP in the privacy of his studio, at the end of a sandy path strewn with shells from nearby Lake Lac Rose.

Rotating for more than five meters around the canvas for long minutes, his long and imposing barefoot silhouette stops. He squats down and sketches a group of young people. He is in “perfect union” with this black. He says “be” black, “Noble and wonderful”. “I feel that any other color I apply will give me exactly what I want,” – he explains.

Artist Omar Ba works in his studio in Sangalkami (May 9, 2022) (JOHN WESELLS / AFP)

Soon, after hundreds of strokes, his canvas will be filled with hybrid creatures, dreamy visions of shimmering colors and dizzying details, where he interacts with the plant, animal and human kingdoms. At 45, Omar Ba is one of the rising stars of contemporary African art and one of the most valued artists by collectors.

Thus, it is one of the sensations of the 14th Dakar Biennale, which opened on Thursday, May 19. The artist expresses joy at being exhibited for the first time there and in his country, where he was born into a family of seven siblings. It was in Dakar that he began his studies as a mechanic and began his art, which he continued in Geneva since 2003. The artist had difficulty exhibiting in hairdressers and cafes until her talent was discovered in 2009 by a curator. Federico Martini.

Since his first exhibition in Switzerland in 2010, the artist, who lives between Senegal, Brussels and Geneva, has exhibited at the Pompidou Center in Paris, as well as many of the world’s largest galleries and museums. He built a workshop at the Peace Shelter, where he charges his batteries in the middle of a mango tree plantation, an hour’s drive from Dakar. The land is occupied by cows, ducks, lush flowers and birds flying over its canvases.

The studio is accumulating a lot of material, such as these Tipex adjustment pens, which he uses to sort out his drawing, and items found for documentation, such as these World War II magazines. They helped him understand the propaganda when this grandson of a Senegalese shooter wanted to condemn the destruction of the war.

Mysterious, even hallucinatory and richly poetic, his work is inhabited by creatures with the heads of goats, sheep or Horus, an Egyptian deity with the head of a falcon. “These half-human, half-animal characters are reminiscent of the nature of people who, in my opinion, behave like animals in the jungle.” This was reported by AFP. His characters embody the traumas inherited from colonialism, tyranny, violence, inequality between the North and the South, and hope.

Omar Ba at work in his studio in Sangalkami (May 9, 2022) (JOHN WESELS / AFP)

At the 2021 exhibition in Brussels, he represented several imaginary heads of state sitting at a table, their hands resting on a book symbolizing this constitution, which many true leaders manipulated to stay in power indefinitely. “We see that Africa wants to go somewhere else, wants to move … There are wars, overthrown heads of state, dictatorships; it worries me “, he throws.

“Omar Ba? But he’s reinventing painting!” – exclaims the artistic director of the Biennale Malik Ndiaye, “this is a powerful and innovative work” and a relentless process of research. Omar Ba is represented by Templon, a famous French gallery. He now exhibits about twenty paintings at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, another exhibition is scheduled for September in New York, and a retrospective at the Baltimore Museum in November. “His work is much more complex than most things you can see: his workmanship, his use of bestiary and color are strikingly strong and beautiful.” considers his gallery owner Mathieu Templon. “He is one of the African artists who has the most aesthetic and political work today.”

AND “An African artist should not be indifferent to what is happening on this continent,” believes Omar Ba. “We must try to see what we can bring to build, calm and give hope, finally,” He said with a gentle smile.

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