First Culture

Malick Sidibe chronicles pop-culture in Bamako through his works

Malick Sidibe chronicles pop-culture in Bamako through his works

Malia’s most famous Photographer, Malick Sidibe is renowned for his black and white images that document popular culture in his hometown of Bamako. Before his passing on April 14th 2016, He received a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at Venice Biennale, a Hasselblad Award for photography, an International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement and a World Press Photo award.

Sidibe’s work became the core of a number of publications and he featured in exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States.

On his work and their origin, Sidibe once said; As a rule, when I was working in the studio, I did a lot of the positioning. 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.

The peculiar dimensions in his works are easy to spot, the extra lift of a shoulder, the tilting forward, the diversity of cultures and the intricacy of love and desire, at a time when the country was just adjusting to her independence.

“We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance. Music freed us. Suddenly, young men could get close to young women, hold them in their hands. Before, it was not allowed. And everyone wanted to be photographed dancing up close,” He said in an interview explaining the role music played in his photos.

In photos that are both proverbial and foreign, with every detail -from the patterns on the carpet, to the looseness of the curtain, to the wooden stool, to men clutching flowers, adding something to the general feel, Sidibe’s works are sure to stand out for these reasons.

About him, art critic & former MoMa curator Robert Storr wrote; 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.

In Sidibe’s work, every African can find familiar faces, an aunt who loved bogus glasses, a little niece, an uncle who visited the UK and suddenly felt foreign, young love, a father who once was hip, friends we used to have.

Most importantly in his work, every African regardless of country can find them-self, posing for a photo, smiling to a camera, waiting for the flash and the sound of the shutter to capture their story, this story.


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Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Senior Editor working out of East Africa.

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Malick Sidibe chronicles pop-culture in Bamako through his works

by Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke time to read: 2 min