Omar Victor Diop, by Antoine Tempe
Dakar is a city where dreams and trash mingle freely, where glamour, glitter and garbage live side-by-side unnoticed. In what locals call 'onion valley', the old part of the city centre where trucks of onions are unloaded in the early morning and men pushing wheelbarrows take them off for trade throughout the city's markets, a lady tip-toes through the debris left by the onion traders, her shoes beautifully lacquered and pointed at the toes, her golden heels picking their way through the debris. She is dressed like every other woman in Dakar, in finely-embroidered cloths, tailored for her style, a colourful cloth wrap carefully tied around her head. The streets and their piles of rubbish don't seem to bother her.
Dakar is getting dirtier, that much is obvious. The city has been suffering a rubbish-collector strike so rubbish is piled up on every street corner, but even without it, there are few bins outside of the city centre and very little common awareness that discarded plastic can cause flooding, encourage the breeding of mosquitoes which can carry malaria, choke livestock. "Nowadays it's everywhere," says fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop of the rubbish he sees lying in his neighbourhood of Dakar, "and people just don't care. They almost consider it normal."
Omar Diop, who is currently exhibiting his work at the Rencontres des Arles, the pinnacle of the international photography circuit, and will soon be exhibiting as part of the Brussels Summer of Photography festival, wanted to have his say on the discourse regarding the environment and sustainability. "People have become insensitive to this whole discourse because they've been hearing it for ever," he says at his home in Dakar. "We all know that over-using plastic and discarding it everywhere is not good. We all hear this, we've been hearing it for the last 20 years. But actually I think that when people see these messages, it's like the health warnings on cigarettes, you don't see them at some point and it means that the discourse probably needs to change."
And so he set about photographing the series 'Fashion 2112', in which a single model wears outfits made entirely from rubbish and items he found in his kitchen. In classic 'Vogue' style pose, the model wears a dress made from a cardboard gin box; in another she looks seductively at the camera whilst wearing a dress made from paper bags and empty water bottles. On her head she wears an elegant headpiece made from scrubbing pads, wash rags and wooden barbecue skewers. In another, the model poses glamourously with an orange and gold cloth on her head. This is actually an onion sack that he found in his mother's kitchen. "I washed it five times," he laughs, "but it still smelt like onions." The result is sharp make-up, fabulous styling, and highly-glossy images that are a complete contradiction to the content: a woman wearing trash.
"This is a project about the future of beauty standards," says Omar. "I try to figure out what would be considered elegant if all these things that we currently value were to disappear, if we were living in a world where there was no gold anymore, no cotton, no pearls." His message is not just about the environment but about the way in which we consume products. "There there might be other ways to consume products and value products, and what would be the fashion standards then?So I started imagining this elegant woman of 2112 who gets dressed from what we currently call trash..."
Omar's trick is to use the visual codes we associate with fashion magazines. "Having it very clean and very sexy, I think it can help change the tone, capturing the attention of the public in a different way. I didn't want to do a documentary which would be darker and that just a small portion of the public would look at. I wanted to experiment with new ways of talking about something which is not fun but which is real, which is the sustainability issues we have as humans on earth".