Omar Ba’s majestic paintings deal with European colonialism in Africa

Omar Ba’s haunting mixed-media paintings situate hybrid animal-human figures in fantastical scenes. They conjure up the afterlife 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. The dense layers of disparate materials bring great depth and texture to Ba’s imagined worlds, prompting the viewer to engage with the heavy stories that shaped them.

Ba’s career started this year. After a winning presentation at the 14 Artists along with Hales Gallery). In the show, the artist, who was born in Senegal and lives in Dakar and New York, presents his US audience with new visions of the African diaspora.

The artist’s success in the secondary market is also growing, with sales matching – though soon to exceed – his numbers in the primary market. Earlier this month, Templon sold Ba’s works at the Armory Show ranging in price from $17,000 to $200,000. At Christie’s Paris live auction Un Respect sur le Monde: Collection Comte & Comtesse Jean-Jacques de Flers in September, two of Ba’s works sold for more than double their high estimate: Chien de race (2012) sold for €47,880 ($47,177), well above its estimate of €15,000 to €20,000 ($14,784 to $19,712); and Delit de facies No. 4 (2013) sold for €27,720 ($27,361), far exceeding its high estimate of €12,000 ($11,844).

Ba received degrees from both the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Dakar and the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. He developed a distinctive style by fusing elements of European-American painting with narratives from traditional Senegalese folklore. Ba’s work suggests that storytelling allows artists to dramatize events and horrors that are beyond their control. It enables them to create new narratives that defy entrenched, institutional truisms.

La maison de l’exile (The House of Exile) (2022), for example, shows a person wearing a black surgical mask. His head and torso are human, while his legs are all horse legs – reminiscent of the mythical centaur. A black silhouette appears amidst rays of light, invoking an almighty deity. The character appears to be seeding the land, but it’s unclear if she’s reaping the benefits: a nod to a local workforce in a colonized environment. Ba textures the composition with his distinctive sponge marks. Other work 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 a poignant commentary on displacement by Euro-American colonialism.

Ba works on enormous scales and extraordinary speeds. He completed most of the 30 works on display in Templon’s gallery floor in the weeks leading up to the grand opening in early September.

In less than a month, Ba created a moving, mythological tribute to those who fled their birthplaces or faced institutional violence in their homelands. The artist honors their stories and transforms them into monumental memories. The delicate vista of Ba is particularly evident on a large scale Devoir de memoire (work of memory) (2022), which features two seated, shirtless figures wearing shorts, sunglasses, and gilded wings. Ba’s majestic African figures hover above the violent, superficial depictions of diasporic characters that have dominated Western art for too long.

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