The largest retrospective of Malick Sidibe’s work at the ‘Fondation Cartier’

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Mali Twist, Malick Sidibé
Right: Nuit de Noel, Malick Sidibé, 19

Fondation Cartier in Paris is staging the largest ever retrospective of the celebrated photographer Malick Sidibe’s work. It comes on the heels of his first ever-solo exhibition in London at Somerset House earlier this year. A year after his death, his work is going through a renaissance as the world is rediscovering his black and white portraits that captured the spirit of a whole generation.

Malick Sidibe was born in 1935 in Mali to a Peul family. He was the first in his family to attend modern school where he stood out with the quality of his drawings. He continued at the craftsmen school, (the predecessor to the School of Arts) where he graduated as an artisan jeweler. In 1955, he was tasked with the decoration of Gerard Guillat-Guignard’s photo studio and became his apprentice. That marked the beginning of his love story with Photography. He went on to open his own studio in 1962 and for the following 15 years or so, he alternated between studio work and photo-reportage. For the later, he would mingle with the partygoers to the point of becoming invisible. That is how he took some of his most iconic pictures such as “Danser le Twist” or “Nuit de Noel”.

Regardez moi, Malick-Sidibé, 1962
Regardez moi, Malick-Sidibé, 1962

His pictures captured the spirit of a young generation who were still experiencing the euphoria of independence and a newfound freedom that extended far beyond the political realms. Young men and women were united in the discovery and the love of a new type of music, twist, that broke with old traditions and allowed a closer proximity with the dancing partner.

While his nightlife pictures are the most popular to have been etched in our collective memory, the exhibition reveals some new dimensions to his work. He portrayed a multifaceted youth: dancing at night time, relaxing by the river Niger over the week end and also busy at work during the day.

Hundred of pictures from the photographer’s archives are displayed in their folders, hinting at the existence of thousands more pictures that have never been seen before. They make for an extraordinary visual account of a very special time in the history of Mali. They are a testament of a society in transition with its youth dancing happily to the tune of new songs, standing between modernity and tradition. The exhibition is exceptional not only in showcasing Sidibe’s work but also in providing the broader historical context of the society he was portraying.

From 1976, Malick Sidibe dedicated himself solely to portraiture in his studio. He drew on his background in drawings to compose striking black and white images. He used various modern props, with the aim of enhancing the beauty of those who came to him and showing them in the best light possible.

Although his reputation grew in Bamako, Sidibe came to international attention late, in the early 90’s when his work was included in the Pigozzi Collection.

A series of awards and accolades would follow, culminating with the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale in 2007. He was the first Photographer and the first African to receive the prestigious distinction.

He passed away in April 2016 but his legacy remains as present as ever. A painting by JP Mika referencing one of his iconic pictures is included in the exhibition.

Beyond the strict sphere of photography, Sidibe’s pictures were the inspiration behind the fashion brand Gucci’s campaign earlier this year.

Left: CL Moto Dans mon Studio, Malcik Sidibe, 1973 Right: Gucci Campaign
Left: CL Moto Dans mon Studio, Malcik Sidibe, 1973
Right: Gucci Campaign 2017

As technology is steadily changing our relationship to images and photography, the world and a young generation of artists are turning back to Malick Sidibe’s work for inspiration. With a focus on composition and human touch, He captured the essence of a generation with minimal technological fuss and this is what shines through this retrospective.

The exhibition : ‘Malick Sidibe: Mali Twist” continues at the Foundation Cartier until February 2018.

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