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The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End

September 30, 2008–April 5, 2009

Malick Sidibé (Malian, b. 1936)

In the studio, I liked working on composition.The photographer's relationship with his subject happens through touch. Arranging the person, finding the right profile, the right lighting to highlight their features, bring out the beauty in their bodies . . . I'd find positions and postures that suited each person, I had my own tactics.

—Malick Sidibé (Bamako, 1998)

Malick Sidibé's photography uniquely captured the youthful exuberance of post-Independence Malian society. At an early age his natural talent for drawing was identified and his artistic education began in 1952 at the Maison des Artisans Soudanais in Bamako. He subsequently transferred that sensibility for representation of the world around him to developing a command of the photographic medium by observing the practice of the French studio photographer Gérard Guillot. Sidibé opened his own studio in the Bagadadji district of Bamako in 1962. His own photographic record is distinctive, however, for his movement between portrait photography and event-driven coverage of the way the youth of Bamako spent their leisure time.

The appeal of this fresh and energetic subject matter led to his tireless pursuit of documenting social gatherings, ranging from the club scene animated by rock and roll and soul to excursions down the Niger. His images reflect the sheer joie de vivre and insouciance of their protagonists during this period of Africa's transition to modernity of the 1960s and 70s. Whether in the studio or at a dance his keen eye for spontaneity as well as imaginative clothes and attitudes afford his imagery originality and a distinctive style. While his formative attachment was to black-and-white photography, in recent years he has also worked in color for the French fashion magazines Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Double. Sidibé received the Hasselblad Award for Photography in 2003, the Venice Biennale's Golden Lion for lifetime achievement award in 2007, and the ICP Infinity Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.