Omar Ba is a contemporary Senegalese artist known for his mixed media paintings which fuse figurative and decorative motifs. Ba’s surreal scenes of violence and fantasy investigate despotic warlords of the present, traditional folklore, colonial oppression, and the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The artist has said that his work is meant to tell narratives that connect the histories of Europe and Africa through their meaning. Born in 1977 in the country of Senegal, he studied at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Dakar before attending the École Supéreiure des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. The artist has participated in exhibitions in Africa, Europe, and the United States. He currently lives and works between Dakar, Senegal and Geneva, Switzerland. Today, Ba’s works are held in the collections of the Centre National Des Arts Plastiques in Paris and the Fonds Municipal d’Art Contemporaine de la Ville de Geneva.
When Senegal erupted in violent protests this month over perceived injustice and inequality, artist Omar Ba was tackling the issues in his own way, with paint on canvas. “What the youth are doing in the streets is the same thing I’m doing in my studio,” said Ba, stepping in black paint and making footprints on a new canvas in his airy workspace outside the capital, Dakar.
Ba, one of Senegal’s best-known contemporary artists, has often used his art to make political statements. A current exhibit at the Galerie Templon in Brussels, ‘Anomalies’, critiques power-hungry leaders through a series of portraits of imaginary heads of state.
“These are things I had seen on TV, but never here,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“I think visual art is something I have to use to denounce what’s not working, or to talk about what is positive, in society.”
The protests were triggered by the arrest of a popular opposition leader, but gathered pace on a wave of anger over economic inequality that has widened during the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands took to the streets, hurling rocks at security forces, who opened fire on protesters.
Some worry Senegal’s President Macky Sall will try to extend his rule beyond the allotted two terms, following a pattern of African leaders such as Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara and Guinea’s Alpha Conde who used constitutional changes to reset their time in power.
Sall has not commented on whether he will seek a third term.
Ba normally keeps his subjects anonymous, so as to focus on themes rather than individuals, but for his next collection he said he might depict Sall.
“Once they’re elected, (heads of state) completely change their discourse. I wanted to talk about that, and that’s why I called this exhibition ‘Anomalies’,” said Ba.