Malian photographer Malick Sidibé is one of the photographers exhibited until 25 September as part of the « Swinging Bamako » exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles. You will discover the dancing, joyful and lively photographs by “the eye of Bamako”, who passed away last April 14th.
A frenzied rhythm, a feeling of carefree freedom, a burst of laughter… The photo “Look at Me!” by Malick Sidibé is in itself an explosion of infectious joie de vivre. We can almost hear the sound of the 45-inch record. Malick Sidibé’s photographs bear witness to the effervescence of Mali in the early 1960s with great artistic and aesthetic sensitivity.
Mali proclaimed its independence on 22 September 1960 after sixty-five years of French colonisation. A wind of freedom and creativity swept across the country. The streets were full of happy faces. Fashion, literature, poetry, music and photography were flourishing. It was also the period when a young 23-year old photographer, Malick Sidibé, decided to open his photography studio in the heart of the Bagadadji neighbourhood in Bamako.
Born in 1936 in Soloba, Malick Sidibé studied in the 1950s at the Ecole des Artisans Soudanais de Bamako, where he studied drawing and jewellery creation. There, he met a young French photographer, Gérard Guillat, alias “Gégé la Pellicule”, who initiated him in photography and asked him to be his assistant.
He quickly began to report the festive nights of Bamako. Weddings, end of year balls, nightclubs… Malick Sidibé attended all the evening events where people danced into the small hours to the sound of pop, rock and roll, soul or Cuban music. He liked to capture their buzzing atmospheres. He produced as many as five reports a night.
His photographs convey the atmosphere of this period of radical transformation, and the sense of independence, liveliness and freedom that filled the middle-class Malian youth of the sixties. These young people wanted to see and be seen, to be immortalised in their finest outfits. Once the films were developed, Malick Sidibé printed small formats that he stuck onto cardboard folders. These folders were then exhibited in the window display of his studio. Night owls soon hurried in to admire themselves and order prints.
Malick Sidibé is very popular among the youth of Bamako. In the late 1960s, after the euphoria of independence, he set up his own portrait studio, which later constituted the greater part of his photographic work. These portraits bear the same spontaneity as his nocturnal reports. For these, in 2003, he received the Prix Hasselblad, awarded annually to a photographer who has produced remarkable work. Four years later, he was the first African artist to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. Although the Malian photographer passed away last April 14th, at the age of 80, his talent and photographs possess an eternal vitality.
Come and discover the photographs of Malick Sidibé on the occasion of the « Swinging Bamako » exhibition, until 25 September in the Couvent Saint-Césaire at the Rencontres d’Arles.