Omar Ba’s Majestic Paintings Grapple with European Colonialism in Africa
Installation view, from left to right, Omar Ba, Devoir de mémoire (Memoir Work), 2022, Parle-moi (Talk to Me) #1, 2022, and La maison de l’exile (The House of Exile), 2022. Photo by Charles Roussel. Courtesy of the artist and Templon, Paris, Brussels, and New York.
Omar Ba’s haunting mixed media paintings situate hybrid animal-human figures within fantastical scenes. They conjure the afterlife of European colonialism in Africa. Ba constructs most of his large-scale works on the floor, layering paint, pencil, Indian ink, and Bic pen ink atop predominantly black backgrounds. The dense layers of disparate materials add great depth and texture to Ba’s imagined worlds, which ask viewers to grapple with the severe histories that shaped them.
Ba’s career has taken off this year. After creating a winning presentation at the 14th Dakar Biennale, the artist has mounted a solo exhibition, “Droit du sol–Droit de rêver” (“Right of Soil–Right to Dream”), that inaugurates Templon’s New York location (which represents the artist along with Hales Gallery). In the show, the Senegal-born, Dakar- and New York–based artist introduces new visions of the African diaspora to his stateside audience.
Omar Ba, Chien de race, 2012. © Christie’s Images Limited. Photo by Anna Buklovska.
Omar Ba, Délit de faciès #4, 2013. © Christie’s Images Limited. Photo by Rob Bennett.
The artist’s secondary-market success is growing, too, with sales matching—though likely soon to exceed—his primary-market figures. Earlier this month at The Armory Show, Templon was selling Ba’s works for prices between $17,000 and $200,000. At Christie’s Paris live auction “Un regard sur le monde: Collection Comte & Comtesse Jean-Jacques de Flers” in September, two of Ba’s works sold for more than double their high estimates: Chien de race (2012) sold for €47,880 ($47,177), well above its estimate of €15,000–€20,000 ($14,784–$19,712); and Délit de faciès #4 (2013) sold for €27,720 ($27,361), far surpassing its high estimate of €12,000 ($11,844).
Ba received degrees from both the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Dakar and the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. He developed a distinctive style by merging elements of Euro-American painting with narratives from traditional Seneglese folklore. Ba’s work suggests that storytelling allows artists to dramatize events and horrors beyond their control. It empowers them to create new narratives that override entrenched, institutional truisms.
La maison de l’exile (The House of Exile) (2022), for example, features an individual wearing a black surgical mask. His head and torso are human, while his legs are all horse—he’s reminiscent of the mythical centaur. A black silhouette appears amid beams of light, conjuring an omnipotent deity. The figure appears to sow the land, but it’s unclear if it reaps the benefits: a nod to local labor in a colonized environment. Ba textures the composition with his distinctive sponge marks.
Other works such as Je parle de l’immigration (I’m Talking About Immigration) and Parlez-nous des états-unis d’Afrique (Tell Us About the United States of Africa) (both 2022) offer pointed commentary about displacement caused by Euro-American colonialism.
Ba works at enormous scales and extraordinary speeds. He completed most of the 30 works on view on Templon’s gallery floor in the weeks leading up to its grand opening in early September.
In less than a month, Ba created a moving, mythological tribute to those who have fled their birthplaces or confronted institutional violence in their home nations. The artist both honors their stories and transforms them into monumental remembrances. Ba’s tender outlook is especially evident in the large-scale Devoir de mémoire (Memoir Work) (2022), which features two seated, shirtless figures who wear shorts, shades, and gilded wings. Ba’s majestic African figures soar above the violent, superficial representations of diasporic characters that have, for too long, dominated Western art.