Malick Sidibé was born in 1935, in a small village in Mali. At the age of 10 he was sent to study at one of the colonial schools, where his drawing skills came to the attention of the colonial governor. This opportunity allowed him to start a degree in painting at the prestigious École des Artisans Soudanais in Bamako (currently known as Institut National des Arts). Upon graduation he commenced an apprenticeship for Bamako-based, French photographer Gérard Guillat. While at the studio his duties were limited to handling the cash register and delivered the photos, he bought his first amateur camera in 1956 (a 6 x9 Brownie Flash) and began photographing the reality surrounding him.
Photographing in the City
The first years of Sidibé’s practice as a photographer coincided with Mali’s transformation from a French colony into a modern and independent state. This shift had its influence not only on political but also social and cultural life in the country. Granted with new freedoms, this change impacted strongly the youths who now had access to international music and clothing and who were allowed to attend parties and nightclubs. Being an active participant in the social circles of the city, Sidibé’s main focus was given to photographing the urban life – surprise parties in the evenings, river Niger on hot Sundays, football championships, boxing matches. In the images, the Malians are laughing shown in moments of joy. A sympathetic connection can be noted between the subjects and the photographer: “ I loved the music and the atmosphere, but above all I loved the dancers”, the artist says, “The moments when young people dance and play as though the stars belong to them — that’s what I loved the most.” As a whole, these photographs present 1960s and 1970s Bamako as a lively, cosmopolitan centre where youth asserted their presence as active participants in a changing world.
Alongside Malick Sidibé’s celebrated documentary photographs of the Bamako nightlife, he also created iconic photographs in his studio. Named ‘Studio Malick’ and operating in the popular neighborhood of Bagadadji, the studio functioned as an important meeting place for the city youth. “The studio was like no other,” he recalls: “It was… relaxed. I did formal family shots, too, but often it was like a party. People would drop by, stay, eat. I slept in the developing room. They’d pose on their Vespas, show off their new hats and trousers and jewels and sunglasses. Looking beautiful was everything.”
Portraits created in Sidibé’s studio reflect the changes that were happening in society. Unlike the official photographs created during the French rule that were used predominantly in the identification documents, on Sidibé’s images Malians were able to represent themselves freely. According to Candace M. Kelle, a specialist in modern African art and photography, in the newly independent country “photography provided Malians with a new medium and venue in which to invent and preserve personal and collective identities.” Through incorporating particular commodities onto the images: cars, cameras, radios, or Western clothing, the subjects were seeking to stress their position as successful and modern. Photography functioned as an important tool in expressing the belonging (actual or desired) to particular social and economic class, allowing people to reclaim the agency over their image and to construct their identities.
Sidibé’s studio portraits are equally dynamic as the photographs created on the streets. The portraits are no longer passive and impersonal as it was in the case of the photographs made prior to the process of decolonization. Sidibé’s images show Malians as confident and active. By incorporating richly patterned textiles or backdrops and other decorative elements, the artist energised the scene. Likewise, the use of low camera angles and elaborated postures of the subjects further emphasised not only their energy but also confidence and individualism. “I didn’t want my subjects to look like mummies. I would give them positions that brought something alive in them” he explained.
Born in Soloba, Mali in 1936
National School of Arts, Bamako
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
Under Malick Sidibé’s Eye and a Song Against AIDS, Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva, Switzerland.
Malick Sidibé: LOVE POWER PEACE, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Malick Sidibé: Mali Twist, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France.
Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali, Somerset House, London, UK.
Malick Sidibé, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Studio Malick, DePaul University Art Museum, Chicago, IL. Travelled to: Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, Florida and Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, NY.
The Eye of Bamako, M+B, Los Angeles, CA.
Malick Sidibé, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Malick Sidibé, Lichfield Studios, London, UK.
Malick Sidibé: La vie en rose. Curated by Laura Serani and Laura Incardona. Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Regardez-moi: Photographs by Malick Sidibé, University Art Gallery, University of San Diego, CA.
Malick Sidibé, Chemises, Curated by Paul Cottin and Jérôme Sother. Fotografiemuseum (FOAM), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Travelledto: Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur Saône, France.
Malick Sidibé: Photographs: 1960–2004, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Malick Sidibé, The Cartier Foundation, Paris, France.
Studio Malick, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Mali, 1974, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Malick Sidibé, Galerie Claude Samuel, Paris, France.
Malick Sidibé, Galleria Nozaionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy.
Malick Sidibé, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Malick Sidibé, Centre d’art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland.
Malick Sidibé: The Clubs of Bamako, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, TX.
Malick Sidibé: Et l’art se met au Monde, Nouveau Musée de Villeurbane, Lyon, France.
Malick Sidibé: Porträt Afrika, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Geramny.
Biennale d’Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey.
Malick Sidibé, Australian Center for Photography, Sydney, Australia.
Malick Sidibé: The Clubs of Bamako, Deitch Projects, New York, NY.
Malick Sidibé, Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, IL.
Malick Sidibé, Photo Espana 1999, Madrid, Spain.
Malick Sidibé, Institut Français d’Athènes, Athens, Greece.
Malick Sidibé, Institut Français de Thessalonique, Thessalonique, Greece.
Malick Sidibé: Photografie 1962–1976, Clubs und Twist und Chats Sauvages, Institut Für Auslandsbeziehungen (I.F.A.), Stuttgart, Germany.
Retrats de l’Anima: Fotografia Africana, Fundacio la Caixa, Madrid, Spain
Malick Sidibé, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, France.
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Museum of the African Di-aspora, San Francisco, CA. Travelled to: Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC, Kalamazoo In-stitute of Arts, MI, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT.
Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tête-à-tête, Curated by Mickalene Thomas, David Castillo Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
Circa 1970, Studio Museum Harlem, New York, NY.
Strength in Numbers: Photography in Groups. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA.
From the Collection: 1960-1969, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
There was a Whole Collection Made: Photography from Lester and Betty Guttman. The University of Chicago, Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, IL.
Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu. Camden Arts Centre, London, England, UK.
African Art Against the State, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA.
Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête, Aperture Gallery, New York, NY.
I am your sister, tête-à-tête, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels, Belgium.
In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Dare You to Look: Radical Realizations in Portraiture, Burning in Water Art, New York, NY.
Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Ger-many, Travelled to: Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, Center de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Spain, Kunsthal Rotterdam, the Netherlands, October 1, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, Albu-querque Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX.
Beyond the Classical: Imagining the Ideal Across Time. National Academy Museum, New York, NY.
More Material, Salon 94, New York, NY.
Second Sight, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland.
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC.
Plural Modernities from 1905 – 1970, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.
Malian Photography, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York, New Paltz, NY.
The Progress of Love, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX.
Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, Barbican Centre, London, UK.
Contemporary African Photography: Zwelethu Mthethwa & Malick Sidibe, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC.
Tête-à-tête, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL.
The Social Body: Malain Portraiture, Perlman Teaching Museum, Carleton College, Northfield, MA.
African Photography, For Whose Eyes?: Constructing and Deconstructing Identities, Mandeville Gallery, Union College, Schenectady, NY.
Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge Collection, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC.
Daniele Tamagni & Africolor, Danziger Projects, New York, NY.
Out of the Dark Room: The David Kronn Collection, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland.
The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, Curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC. Travelled to: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA.
The Walther Collection, Curated by Okwui Enwezor, Burlafingen, Germany.
Posing Beauty, Tisch School of the Arts, New York, NY.
Black Womanhood, The Hood Museum, Hanover, New Hampshire.
The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
People, Jim Kempner Fine Art, New York, NY.
The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles, Grey Art Gallery, New York, NY.
Prospect 1, New Orleans, LA.
June Bride, Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, NY.
Think with the Senses Feel with the Mind, Curated by Robert Storr at the 52nd Annual Venice Bi-ennale at the Italian Pavilion, Venice, Italy.
Subject, selections from The Cartin Collection, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, CT.
The Whole World is Rotten, The Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH.
Earth and Memory: African and African-American Photograph, Elizabeth Stone Harper Gallery, Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC.
Impressions of Africa, Helen Day Art Center, Stowe, VT.
Linkages and Themes in the African Diaspora: Selections from the Eileen Harris Norton and Peter Norton, Family Art Collection, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA.
Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Raleigh, NC.
African Art, African Voices, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, PA.
Image and Identity: Portraits by Philip Kwame Apagya, Samuel Fosso, Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé, The Sheldon Art Galleries, Saint Louis, MO.
A Charge to Keep, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Common Ground, Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia Norrell, Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, DC.
Staged Realities: The Studio in African Photography 1870–2004, Michael Stevenson Contemporary, Cape Town, South Africa.
Photographs from the Permanent Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Portraiture (Every Picture Tells A Story), Solomon Projects, Atlanta, GA.
Hot Groove, Gallery M, New York, NY.
Untitled, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
P.S. 1 Museum for Contemporary Art, New York, NY.
The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, Curated by Okwui Enwezor, Museum Villa Stuck, München, Germany.
You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, The Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY.
SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
Art Collection of the United States Embassy
The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, New York
The Getty Museum, Los Angeles
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
International Center of Photography, New York
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, California
LaSalle Bank, Chicago
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California
The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
Utah Museum, Salt Lake City, Utah