Frédérick Douglass (work of art)
Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This is a portrait of artist Omar Victor Diop posing as the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
- Diop is a Senegalese photographer and designer whose photographs explore his heritage and African diasporas.
- Frédérick Douglass is part of Diop’s Diaspora photo series. In this series he substitutes baroque-era props with soccer accessories.
Omar Victor Diop is a self-taught artist. He takes on the role of various saints, martyrs, and leaders from the global Black community in his photographs. Even though he photographs himself in these roles, he says his images are not self-portraits.
They are metaphorical portraits in which the idea of Black identity is central. I enjoyed being the subject and the object of the photographs, but, no, they are not self-portraits in the traditional sense. Part of me wants to reinvent the great heritage of elaborate studio photography that we have in Africa – and which every other young African artist is reacting against.
Diop’s work explores his identity as a Senegalese artist. It also explores African diasporas, or the movements of Africans and their descendants to different parts of the world. His photographs feature Black historical figures that he depicts using a style of art (baroque portraiture) that often excluded people of color.
Frédérick Douglass reimagines a 19th-century portrait of Frederick Douglass by American photographer Samuel J. Miller. Douglass was a famous writer, speaker, and national leader of the abolitionist movement who escaped slavery. He commissioned Miller’s photograph as a way to gain supporters for his campaign to end slavery. Diop emulates Douglass’s intense gaze and determined expression in his version of the portrait.
This portrait is included in the artist’s Diaspora series. Diop replaces baroque-era objects with soccer accessories (like the referee’s whistle in this portrait) in his photographs, to bring attention to the relationship between fame and exclusion for Black individuals. According to the artist, his series brings Black historical figures into a “current conversation about the African diaspora and contemporary issues around immigration, integration, and acceptance.”
Resources for Teachers:
- Read an interview with Omar Victor Diop.
- Watch a video of the artist talking about the history of portraiture in Senegal.
- Explore a lesson plan about portraiture from the National Portrait Gallery.
Resources for Students:
- Explore the artist’s website to view his Diaspora series.
- Watch a video interview with Omar Victor Diop.
- Watch a video to learn more about Frederick Douglass.