Visiting Lecturer of Art History
Omar Victor Diop is a Dakar-based photographer who unites dynamic backdrops, crisp clothing, and youthful faces across his different series. Ken belongs to Diop’s The Studio of Vanities project, a suite of forty studio portraits that capture the vibrant personalities currently shaping what he calls the “African urban universe.” The series’ subjects include curators, models, DJs, makeup artists, bloggers, and chefs, demonstrating the far-reaching influence of these individuals in cultural spheres—both online and across the African continent.
One such innovator, Ken (Akya) Aïcha Sy (Senegalese, born 1989), founded the online platform Wakh’Art (Wolof for “Talking Art”) in 2011, a site that includes music production, exhibition reviews, and a rigorous calendar of events. Already a touchstone for the urban youth of Dakar, her website provides both a space for collaboration and an archive of accomplishments for slammers (poets), columnists, and music groups. Ken Aïcha is an ambassador for a generation rooted in the rich legacies of modern Africa and in contemporary globalization. With mixed cultural heritage (her mother is French Martiniquais; her father is celebrated Senegalese painter and performance artist El Hadji Sy) and dispersed geographic experiences (studying in Paris, building a business in Dakar), she represents increasingly complex identities that defy simple, traditional categorization. Would she be categorized as “African” or a member of “the diaspora”? In 2017, do such labels even matter?
Diop’s lens offers a glimpse of one individual who plays a part in a larger network of exchange. In this portrait, he does not position Ken Aïcha as belonging to one racial type or national identity. Instead, she stands for herself and her mission to promote cultural heritage and engagement in her hometown of Dakar. In many ways, The Studio of Vanities series resonates with the conventions of earlier West African photographers, like Seydou Keïta, Mama Casset, or Malick Sidibé, whereby individual subjects choose garments and props that fashion and project conceptions of their cosmopolitan selves in an increasingly global age.