Baba Diop on the Power of Protest and Fashion’s Duty to Speak Up

If you can bear to even utter the number 2020, one of the most traumatic parts of the past year came from the public witnessing of state-enacted brutality against Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and recently, Casey Goodson Jr. In the largest global demonstration of protest, many used their voices and bodies to peacefully speak against the baseless, unanswered deaths of innocent members of society. Amongst them, model Baba Diop felt compelled to join protests and lend his platform to spreading awareness to his followers, many of who are clients, on the Black Lives Matter movement. “I realized that I didn’t want to be a hitchhiker in life, I had to put forth genuine effort to make a change,” Diop explains on his motivations. Moving beyond black squares and hashtag activism, fashion has been pressured to answer to its own part in enacting discrimination in the industry due to a lack of black people in leadership roles compared to their white or POC counterparts. We spoke to the model about his thoughts on the movement’s impact on fashion and modeling, surviving 2020, and using his creative expression as a path to healing.

In a few words, how would you describe your 2020 and how did it affect your creativity as an artist and model?
We’ve all had a rough year, individually and collectively. It’s been a weird roller-coaster of tragedy and good fortune. If there’s been a positive to that type of experience, it’s the scattered emotions I’ve felt and the impact it’s had on my creativity. Emotions and creativity go hand in hand and in 2020 I discovered so many ways I could express myself artistically and professionally.

You were active in the Black Lives Matter protests last year, how will you continue spreading awareness of social justice and systemic issues in 2021?
I never thought I’d be an activist or a consistent protester but this year I became that. I realized that I didn’t want to be a hitchhiker in life, I had to put forth genuine effort to make a change in my life. The protests were important because each protester made a statement and played a part in showing how much systemic racism affects our lives. It’s only one part of the struggle. We saw unprecedented voter turnout. I’ll continue by spreading awareness and educating myself first and foremost and being an active participant in making change.

When it comes to race do you think fashion is hitting the mark in terms of inclusion?
I’d be dishonest if I said I thought there’s equality across the spectrum in the fashion industry. But I’ll admit there’s definitely been some progress. When I entered the industry there weren’t many who looked like me but now I see models, designers, directors, and stylists of all types and backgrounds. We’re not exactly where we should be but we’re moving in the right direction.

How do you think the fashion industry can make changes when it comes to socio-political issues in our own community?
To me, the fashion industry has always been here to combat the toxic norm and limits placed in society. It has always been here to provide a breath of fresh air and crush unjust and outdated traditions. I think it’s the industry’s duty to speak out and spearhead that change. It should make that change for the love of art and fashion, while greed and competition take a backseat.

What impact do you want to make in the fashion industry?
My job as a model is to make clothes look good and to help bring concepts to life. However, the fashion industry is a platform for me to express myself and inspire others to express their selves. That’s the beauty of this industry. I’ve grown in so many ways and met so many people here who’ve had a profound effect on me. I just want to be Baba, and provide that love and inspiration for whoever may need it.

Are there any designers you would like to work with this year that you haven’t worked with already?
I’ve become a follower and fan of many fashion brands since I’ve been here and I’ve been blessed to work with many. A few designers I follow but haven’t worked with yet are Kerby Jean-Raymond, Kim Jones, Matthew Williams, Raf Simons, and many others. Whether or not I ever get the chance to shoot with or walk for one of them, I’ll still be a fan of their collections and concepts.

What does a “new normal world” look like for you post-pandemic?
Our entire reality has changed over the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new normal is an increasingly digital and technological world. We’ve had to adopt strict hygiene rules which in many ways was good for us. I don’t know exactly what’s in store but I am eager to see how the creative and entertainment industries find new ways to function without taking health risks.

You are a model but also a digital artist and writer. How have you juggled these facets of yourself and how do they fulfill you?
I’ve been drawing and illustrating for as long as I can remember. I used to hate reading and writing but in the last few years, I’ve fallen in love with literature. I began writing seriously while exploring ways to express myself a few years back and found that I enjoyed doing so creatively. Modeling of course is my profession but also one of those ways I express myself. I feel like an artist shouldn’t limit himself or herself. He or she should express themselves in all ways they feel they can and should. Modeling, illustration, and writing are the ways I peacefully express myself and my creativity.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives and models?
The best and probably most cliché advice I could probably give is to honestly be yourself. There’s something to admire and adore in all of us and there’s no need to try hard and seek the attention we sometimes desire. One should always try to enhance themself as long as they remain true to themself. I truly believe there’s time for everyone to shine and that in due time the gem that is you will get its fair shine.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
I’m honestly just grateful I made it through 2020 and pray I make it through 2021 and many more years. Unfortunately, many of the issues worldwide didn’t magically disappear on January 1, so I pray that all 2021, we move forward instead of backward but we all need to actually want to progress and not regress. I’m praying that good prevails again.

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