Photographer Malick Sidibé was born in 1936 in the village of Soloba, Mali and passed away not long ago on April 14th 2016 in the capital Bamako, where he created and shot the bulk of his work. Left blind in one eye from a childhood accident, Sidibé was remarkably known as the ‘eye of Bamako’. He started taking his infamous black and white shots in 1956, after working as the studio assistant for French photographer Gérard Guillat, and was soon at the forefront of portrait photography in post-independence Mali.
From the outset, Sidibé epitomized the resilient yet carefree semblance of the very Bamako youth he captured on camera. He was not Guillat’s instrument, or a pawn to colonial photography - but a photographer in his own right – “He [Guillat] didn’t teach me how to take photographs, but I watched him and I understood how to take photographs. I did the African events, the photos of Africans, and he did the European events – the major balls, official events.”
Sidibé opened the enchanting Studio Malick in 1958, where it soon developed a reputation to be Bamako’s creative ‘it’ spot to network and party. Renowned for his documentary photography, if Sidibé was not creating the party, he was following it – photographing the Bamako youth at sport events, the beach, nightclubs, concerts, and even whilst men courted their dates. Yet, Sidibé’s pervasive presence in his photographs never overpowered the actions of his subjects – the instantaneous spontaneity and charm never sacrificed. This era of Sidibé’s photography continues to enrapture critics and the public alike – revealing the flamboyant nonchalance of a country who had too long been under the reigns of a colonial dominance that pressed heavily on the freedom of African expression, creation and spirit.
In the 1970’s, Sidibé moved to studio portraiture, where he continued to maintain the integrity and the joy of each of his subjects through his own repertoire of crafts; ‘As I have a background in drawing, I was able to set up certain positions in my portraits. I didn't want my subjects to look like mummies. I would give them positions that brought something alive in them.’
As often with many African artists, Sidibé’s work gained belated recognition in the 1990’s and has since been held in collections including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Sidibé won the Hasselblad award for photography in 2003 and the Infinity award for lifetime achievement at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2008.
In 2007, Sidibé became the first photographer, and more notably, the first African artist to receive a Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale, with former MoMA curator Robert Storr stating: “No African artist has done more to enhance photography’s stature in the region, contribute to its history, enrich its image archive or increase our awareness of the textures and transformations of African culture in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st than Malick Sidibé.” Since his passing in 2016, his work has been honored in various museums and galleries such as the Fondation Cartier, Paris and Somerset House, London. He has three wives and 17 children.
Images courtesy of MALICK SIDIBÉ
words HELENE KLEIH
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