“As a Francophone African,” he said, “I had never heard of these individuals.”
He has since made up for that oversight, producing “Project Diaspora,” a set of 12 images Mr. Diop adapted from artworks created in Europe from the 15th to the 19th centuries. They represent outstanding individuals who lived in Europe and illustrate the historical depth of the ties that have linked the Western world to the African continent.
In each image, Mr. Diop poses as the person in the original engraving, painting or sculpture. “I enjoy the idea that, contrary to the conventional self-portrait, I am just an accessory,” he said during a Skype interview. “My goal is to bear witness to the contribution of Africans to universal civilization.”
I’ve made the imposition here to include some of the original artworks beside a few of the photographs from the series, a testament to both the accuracy of the recreations, and well as to underscore the symbolism of Diop’s interpretations.
'Project Diaspora' : 'Dom Nicolau, prince of Kongo' by Omar Victor Diop. A journey through time, the photographic series delves into and exposes less spoken narratives of the role of African leaders who publicly protest colonial influences.
1. Jean-Baptiste Belley (1746 – 1805) Jean-Baptiste Belley was a native of Senegal, born on the Island of Gorée and former slave from Saint-Domingue in the French West Indies who bought his freedom with his savings. During the period of the French Revolution, he became a member of the National Convention and the Council of Five Hundred of France. He was also known as Mars. Original painting by Girodet
2. Don Miguel de Castro (1643) In 1643 or 1644 Don Miguel de Castro and two servants arrived as part of a delegation sent by the ruler of Sonho, a province of Congo, via Brazil to The Netherlands. One objective of the journey was to find a resolution to an internal conflict in Congo. Original painting attributed to Jaspar Beck or Albert Eckout.
3. Dom Nicolau (Circa. 1830-1860) Dom Nicolau, prince of Kongo is perhaps the earliest African leader who wrote publicly to protest colonial influences. Nicolau, protested against Portuguese commercial and political activity and military expansion by publishing a letter in a Portuguese newspaper in Lisbon. His exact birth date remains uncertain. Contemporary engravings of Nicolas during his visit in Lisbon in 1845 suggest that he was then perhaps fifteen to twenty years of age.
4. Juan de Pareja (1606 – 1670) Juan de Pareja was a Spanish painter, born in Antequera, near Málaga, Spain. He is primarily known as a member of the household and workshop of painter Diego Velázquez. He later became Velazquez’s assistant sometime after the master returned to Madrid from his first trip to Italy in January 1631. Original Painting by Diego Velasquez.