As a boy, I dreamed of becoming a journalist. But then I got caught up with day-to-day troubles. When your life is full of worry it is like the future does not exist.
When I was about seven, my father left our home in a township near Maputo and travelled to South Africa to look for work. I was older than my sisters and had to help bring in some money. So I started to take my mother’s biscuits into town to sell in the market.
I got into doing odd jobs in the market – washing people’s cars and helping to carry their bags. Instead of going home, I often slept overnight in the market with my friends.
It wasn’t very safe. We had nowhere to keep anything, so we stole from one another. I got into some bad habits – minor criminality, but it was a question of survival. Dog eat dog.
My mother tried several times to send me to school but she just couldn’t afford the fees. But all this time I was learning – I read books, and through volunteering with NGOs I learned English.
When I was about 14, I borrowed a friend’s camera. I started to take photographs of my surroundings, documenting people from the townships as they travelled to the city to sell their things. They were black-and-white photos, which I developed in a darkroom I made in my mother’s house. I was teaching myself how to do things, practising whenever I could, but it was difficult for me to pay for the film and the chemicals.
My favourite photograph was taken near the township where I grew up early one morning. It was of a woman walking into town to sell cassava. She had her back to the camera and it was raining.
Back in the 80s, my classmates and I piled into Mbabane’s local cinema to watch Top Gun. We’d turn to each other, channeling our best version of Val Kilmer to spout “You can be my wing man anytime” – followed by intense laughter. Who doesn’t have a favourite line, an iconic moment from film lodged in our minds?
Dakar-based photographers Omar Victor Diop and Antoine Tempé were counting on just that, the shared experience and ubiquity of film, when the hotel group Onomo International invited them to create a series of photographs using the hotel as a backdrop. They turned to the silver screen, to iconic moments they’ve held onto to and mined for their collaborative project, ONOMOllywood.
In 20 images that pay homage to characters such as Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, these reinventions begin with the a humble “what if…” A question looking to how popular global cultural translates to the local, what could it look like, and what new memories would it create. The project has created conversation, accolades and blowback, but in an interview with Another Africa, Diop takes it all in stride.
Missla Libsekal | Representational art usually puts artists in the hot seat, audiences tend to have strong opinions. For example Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits as famous political figures or Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood series. Mimicry steps on the nerve of nostalgia, the sacred or even challenges the status quo. What tale doesONOMOllywood tell and does it hit any nerves?
Omar Victor Diop |ONOMOllywood is a celebration of cinema, as an artistic discipline and of the magic of a great movie. For Antoine Tempé (the co-author of the series who created 10 out of the 20 images) and myself, what makes a great movie is the fact that the strength of its characters, plot and scenes transcends all geographic, temporal and racial barriers. A great movie is more than a series of sequences, it becomes a moment that is lived across the globe by people who have very little in common, but who relate to extraordinary stories that allow them to dream.
The example I always give is the magic of a James Bond movie; back when I was a kid, I didn’t care whether Roger Moore was white or black, or whether I was a British citizen… to me, he was a hero I could impersonate. After watching A View To A Kill, I firmly believed my pajamas were a tuxedo and that my mom’s kitchen was actually some concrete jungle where I would chase after criminals… That’s what cinema has brought to me and it still somehow does, to my adult life. A great movie is a dream.
ONOMOllywood did hit some nerves, especially in the US: after one of my interviews was published on CNN.COM. We were taken aback by the racial dimension of some readers’ comment. To my great surprise, I realised that this series could be seen by some as a sort of “revenge” of black people against a too “white” Hollywood. The “race war” in the comments section was quite epic!
It was rather amusing to see the way some readers resolutely eluded the fact that this project is the product of a collaboration between a French-American photographer and a Senegalese photographer. It was “just some black dude painting Hollywood in black because the world looked better like this”.
I guess this can be explained by a set of contextual factors. The article about ONOMOllywood was published in late July 2013, after a heated debate over a series of race-related affairs like the Trayvon Martin case in the US, a series of blackface incidents in fashion magazines in Europe, etc. I guess people from both sides were already prepared to shoot at anything that could be seen as an attempt to see the world from a racial perspective… Interesting experience indeed, we’re glad this project started a conversation in other continents, that’s the purpose of art, even though for us, ONOMOllywood remains a celebration, a well deserved homage to geniuses of cinema, to timeless moments.