1930-2020, Touba, Senegal

Oumar Ka apprenticed under the Senegalese photographer Cheikh Kane, before beginning his career in 1959 as an itinerant photographer, traveling to villages in the interior of Senegal. Ka represented his clients within their rural contexts, their surroundings speaking of their subjecthood, and often of their work or occupations. 

Ka’s subjects often seem suspended between earth and sky, surrounded by elements both of nature and the constructed rural environment, captured in a moment in time, immediate. While Oumar Ka sometimes posed his subjects against a plain studio drop-cloth, this device helps foreground them but never functions as a backdrop that obliterates the setting, sharply distinguishing his work from much African studio photography of the mid-20th century. Also, Oumar Ka’s deliberate framing of his images underlines their own construction, the verticals and horizontals in his images seldom paralleling the edges of his frame. 

“Instead of abstracting his sitters, Ka offers a materialism that insists on their daily lives, locales and labor, not as ethnographic curiosities, but as actual constituents of their modernity” (Giulia Paoletti, “Beyond Surfacism: Oumar Ka’s Distant Portraits of Labor and Land,” in Bassam Chaitou, Roots and Wings, (forthcoming). 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


2018 Oumar Ka: Gis-Gis Baol / Photos du Baol. Dak’art Biennial OFF, Dakar Senegal

2015 In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Paoletti, Giulia. “Beyond Surfacism: Oumar Ka’s Distant Portraits of Labor and Land,” in Roots and Wings, Bassam Chaitou. (forthcoming)

“African Artists from 1882 to now” Phaidon, 2021, p151, 2021

Paoletti, Giulia and Yaëlle Biro. “Photographic Portraiture in West Africa: Notes from ‘In and Out of the Studio'”. Metropolitan Museum Journal, volume 51, 2016, pp. 182-199.