In 1995, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art presented Mali photographer Malick Sidibé’s first monographic exhibition outside Africa. One year after the artist’s death on April 14,2016, she pays homage to him with Mali Twist*, a major retrospective exhibition of 250 photographs accompanied by a book, designed and directed by André Magnin in collaboration with Brigitte Ollier.
At the time, Malick Sidibé travelled through the evenings of the capital with his Kodak Brownie Flash to photograph this youth discovering dances from Europe and Cuba. A wind of freedom blows over Bamako. Couples wiggle over twist, rock’ n’ roll and Afro-Cuban music. The girls wear the mini skirt and the boys wear the elephant leg “Every Friday and Saturday evening, surprise parties were organized, the last trendy item of clothing, the best 45 laps. Malick had to be there for the party to start. We wanted to be photographed. It was Bamako’s eye, everybody knew him and he knew everyone,”explains André Magnin, curator of the exhibition, who helped to make the artist’s work known in the West. The next day, the young people meet on the banks of the Niger River to swim and picnic in front of Malick Sidibé’s goal.” Malicki “, as he was nicknamed at the time, became the” youth reporter “. A privileged witness to the Bamako evenings of the 1960s and 1970s, he photographed in black and white the cultural and social life of his city, which had been in full turmoil since Mali’s independence in 1960.
After the proclamation of independence, there was much hope, euphoria and freedom. The young people needed these parties to emancipate themselves. Photography was a way of asserting itself and regaining control over its image,”says Malian writer Manthia Diawara, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as the artist,” a big brother “to him.
Son of Peul peasant, Malick Sidibé was born in 1935 in Soloba, a village south of Bamako, near the Guinean border. After graduating from the “Ecole des Blancs”, he obtained his CAP at the Sudanese Craftsman’s School and his diploma as a jeweller and craftsman. At the age of 20, he was spotted by Gérard Guillat, known as “Gégé la pellicule”, who hired him to decorate his studio. The apprentice realizes his first portraits of Malian clients. In 1962, the self-taught photographer opened the “Studio Malick” in Bagadadji, near the large mosque. His shop quickly became the capital’s undisputed place to have his portrait drawn. Shepherds, boxers, teenagers, children disguised as carnivals, Malick Sidibé photographed his models with an always complicit eye.
I don’t like sadness in photography, it’s misery.
“The client relies on me a lot, you have to reassure him. Embellish it. I watch how he stands, we joke together, there’s always cousins. It takes trust. And happiness. I don’t like sadness in photography, it’s misery,”he told journalist Brigitte Ollier in an interview in 1997.
In 1995, the Fondation Cartier presented the first exhibition of the artist outside the African continent. A few years later, Malick Sidibé was the first African to receive the Hasselblad Photography Award. In 2007, he received, with tears in his eyes, a Golden Lion of honour for his entire career at the Venice Biennale.
The exhibition brings together for the first time his most exceptional and emblematic photographs; period prints made by himself from 1960 to 1980; a selection of “shirts” gathering his evening shots as well as a collection of unpublished portraits of timeless beauty. A true plunge into the life of this great photographer, this exceptional set of black and white photographs reveals how Malick Sidibé was able to capture, from the early 1960s onwards, the vitality of Bamako youth and impose his unique style, recognized worldwide today. The title of the exhibition, Mali Twist, refers to the eponymous song by Malian singer and guitarist Boubacar Traoré, released in 1963.
The Nomad Evenings
Throughout the exhibition, Les Soirées Nomades invite Malian artists, musicians and thinkers of all generations to dialogue with Malick Sidibé’s work. Concerts, popular dances, traditional puppets, a travelling photo studio or encounters around music and dance will punctuate the exhibition as many projects and voices echoing the joie de vivre inspired by Malick Sidibé’s photographs.
Not to be missed under any circumstances.