At Galleria Giuseppe Pero, Milan
The research proposed by Omar Ba aims to give rise to a series of reflections on the dramatic political conflicts between the Western world and the African continent that have emerged during the last century. Wars, power struggles, military occupation and exploitation of resources are just some of the themes being touched in the cardboard paintings by the Senegalese artist, who fills the exhibition space with silent awareness through incredible narrative strength. Omar Ba decided to quit the abstractionism learned in Africa in order to dedicate his artistic production to European iconography that better suits for the expression and communication of meanings behind a painting. In spite of this choice, he doesn’t completely reject his tradition; indeed, he makes recurrent use of African tribal signs, geometric and organic in the form, that relate to his native culture. Omar Ba’s artistic will is also that to give worth back to things that have been undervalued, or even unconsidered for long time. This is why he decided to use cardboard as an alternative to canvas; it is a poor material from which he intends to “pull out the extraordinary from the ordinary”, alluding metaphorically also to his motherland.
Remarkable is the choice of colours, used in a strongly thick and expressive way: black and lighter colours fight for dominance in the paintings, almost alluding to the power games between the West and Africa. The black backgrounds not only relate to the political dramas, but also recall the colour of the skin and ground, of nature and fertility, while the white and brighter tones act as a contrast, lighting up the entire representation.
Omar Ba’s works are inhabited by animals from African fables or children books, but the sense of innocence disappears as the viewer identifies and recognizes the other figures in the background that are charged with tension and forebear violence. The recurrent use of zoomorphic visions is, in Omar Ba’s opinion, the metaphor of human bestiality: when people fight for the predominance of the strongest, killing each other for political and territorial conquests, the boundary between men and animals becomes more and more fleeting until it ceases to exist.
Another major theme in the exhibition is that of resource exploitation and consequently, the impossibility for Africa to emerge and develop as a country. Omar Ba gives tangible form to this impracticable dream in one of his paintings, in which the African continent has been depicted with a series of geometrical shapes that seem to remind the viewer of cobs floating in a sky of plumage, conferring a sense of delicate suspension, while the arrows that converge upon the continent are represented by thick arrow, indicating the imminent external threats, ready to plunder.
The artist’s thought and expression culminates in the painting that depicts a militarized-jackal, which serves as a metaphor of the military occupation of Libya that has been object of several controversial interests from the Western superpowers during the last mid century. When compared to human beings, the animals of the wild savannah seem to lose their strength and vigour, becoming more and more miserable until they relapse into death, which is represented by figure of the vulture, an animal that awaits for the extinction of life to feed itself of the fallen corpses, the ultimate allusion to human bestiality.
The artistic research carried out by Omar Ba is of universal relevance. It induces us to identify ourselves with the paintings that seem to awaken memories of a remote past. It paves the way for the collective awareness of social and geo-political issues that are too often neglected and ignored by the West, and aims to encourage reflections on the current state of the world, on this multicultural node of complex relationships between Africa and the rest of the world.
Anni Wu, Giorgia Papaleo