The Malian photographer Malick Sidibé died yesterday, 14 April, at the age of 80. Sidibé’s Paris gallery, Magnin-A, confirmed the news.
Born in 1935 in Soloba, Mali, Sidibé witnessed the cultural ferment of the capital, Bamako, after the country achieved independence in 1960. “Malick Sidibé is both a witness and an actor in the changes of an African youth divided between tradition and the emergence of a fashion, a music and a lifestyle inspired by the modern Western world. He made this change the main subject of his work,” wrote the dealer André Magnin in the catalogue for Sidibé’s solo exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris in 1995.
Magnin, who met Sidibé in 1991, remembers him as “a headstrong, generous man”. He tells our sister newspaper Le Journal des Arts that he has been planning a major retrospective of the artist’s work for several years, in the mould of the survey that the Grand Palais is currently dedicating to his compatriot, Seydou Keïta, but in a different venue.
After graduating from the School of Sudanese Artists in Bamako in 1955, Sidibé trained with the French photographer Gérard Guillat-Guignard, opening his own Studio Malick in the Bagadadji quarter of the city in 1958. Active within the avant-garde milieu, he discovered the youth culture of Bamako in the dances and fashions that had come from Europe and Cuba.
“In 1957 he was the only reporter in Bamako to cover all those events and parties,” says Magnin-A gallery. In documenting those moments, he created a collective portrait of the capital’s vibrant cultural and social life. “His photos give off an insouciance and spontaneity, a party atmosphere of play, laughter and life,” the gallery says. In the 1970s Sidibé moved towards studio photography.
The first edition of the Rencontres de Bamako (Bamako Encounters) African photography biennial in 1994 brought Sidibé wider recognition. In 2003, he was the first African photographer to receive the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. In 2007, he was honoured with one of the art world’s most prestigious accolades, a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale.