Majestic paintings by Omar Ba grapple with European colonialism in Africa

Omar Ba’s haunting mixed-media paintings situate hybrid figures of animals and humans in fantastical scenes. They evoke the beyond of European colonialism in Africa. Ba constructs most of his large-scale works on the floor, layering paint, pencil, India ink, and Bic pen ink on predominantly black backgrounds. Dense layers of disparate material add great depth and texture to Ba’s fantasy worlds, which ask viewers to grapple with the serious stories that shaped them.

Ba’s career took off this year. After creating an award-winning presentation at the 14th Dakar Biennale, the artist mounted a solo exhibition, “Droit du sol – Droit de rêver”, which inaugurates the New York location of Templon (which represents the artist with Hales Gallery). . In the show, the Senegalese-born artist, based in Dakar and New York, presents new visions of the African diaspora to his American audience.

The artist’s success in the secondary market is growing as well, with sales matching – although soon expected to exceed – his primary market numbers. Earlier this month at The Armory Show, Templon sold Ba’s works for prices between $17,000 and $200,000. At Christie’s Paris live auction “A Look at the World: Collection Comte & Comtesse Jean-Jacques de Flers” in September, two of Ba’s works sold for more than double their high estimate: purebred dog (2012) sold for €47,880 ($47,177), well above its estimate of €15,000 to €20,000 ($14,784 to $19,712); and Facial Offense #4 (2013) sold for €27,720 ($27,361), far exceeding its high estimate of €12,000 ($11,844).

Ba is a graduate of the National School of Fine Arts in Dakar and the Superior School of Fine Arts in Geneva. He developed a distinctive style by fusing elements of Euro-American painting with stories from traditional Senegalese folklore. Ba’s work suggests that storytelling allows artists to dramatize events and horrors beyond their control. This allows them to create new narratives that transcend entrenched institutional truisms.

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 horseback – he is reminiscent of the mythical centaur. A black figure appears amid beams of light, evoking an all-powerful deity. The character seems to sow the land, but we don’t know if he reaps the benefits: a nod to local labor in a colonized environment. Ba textures the composition with her distinctive sponge marks. Other works like I’m talking about immigration and Tell us about the United States of Africa (both from 2022) offer pointed commentary on the displacement caused by Euro-American colonialism.

Ba works on enormous scales and at extraordinary speeds. He produced most of the 30 works exhibited on the floor of the Templon gallery in the weeks leading up to its official opening in early September.

In less than a month, Ba has created a moving mythological tribute to those who fled their birthplace or faced institutional violence in their home country. The artist honors their stories and transforms them into monumental memories. Ba’s tender outlook is especially evident in large-scale projects Duty of memory (2022), which features two seated shirtless figures who wear shorts, sunglasses, and golden wings. Ba’s majestic African figures soar above the violent and superficial portrayals of diaspora figures that have for too long dominated Western art.

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