Malick Sidibé

Exhibition catalogue
The Insiders, a selection of works (1989 to 2009)
from the Jean Pigozzi collection of African art
Fondation Louis Vuitton & Dilecta, Paris, 2017

A Peul by birth and tradition, Malick Sidibé was born in 1937 in Sodoba, a village south of Bamako, the Malian capital where he would live and work and where he died on 14 April 2016. Keen on drawing, he enrolled at the École des Artisans Soudanais in that city, and it was after he graduated as a jewelry-maker that he was introduced to photography by Gérard Guillat.1 In 1956, he bought his rst camera and in 1962 he opened a studio in Bagadadji, a popular quarter of the capital. Alongside his studio work, he photographed the night-life of the city’s young people, winning recognition as the “of cial photogra- pher” of a scene dominated by competing members’ clubs. Socialization continued on Sundays, on the banks of the Niger, and Malick was there as well. From the late 1970s onward he would concentrate on his studio work and camera repair. Sidibé’s work was exhibited at the Rencontres de Bamako in 1994, alongside that of Seydou Keïta. Shown in Paris in 1995, his rst solo exhibition would then travel the world. In 2003, he won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, and at the Venice Biennale of 2007 he was awarded a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

The “night club” series, a selection from which is shown here, captures the energy of youth, picturing a joy- ful, supercharged, newly independent Africa, full of prom- ise. During the 1960s and ’70s, Sidibé would go from party to party, taking photograph after photograph. “When Malick arrived, he would announce himself with a ash and people would form a guard of honor for him. He didn’t dance, no, he was too shy, but there would be a table reserved for him. He’d watch and then he’d photo- graph whatever the young people had for him. They were evenings full of humor, thrill, carefree, music, making eyes... When he’d taken his pictures, Malick would get back on his bike to cover other parties, especially at the weekends.”2

His group scenes, frenetically dancing couples and carefully posed portraits have become iconic. They show a carefree, music-loving youth. Sidibé recalled: “Every Saturday night, you had to be elegant, you paid attention to your clothes. To make a good impression, everything had to be impeccable, the pleat of your trousers so sharp you could slaughter a chicken on it! Of course, there was the in uence of French fashion and the lms... What did they listen to? All kinds of music, the Beatles, James Brown, Otis Redding, lots of Afro-Cuban groups. And they danced the rumba, the twist and the merengue.”3 The photographs close in on the pose or attitude, the framing unobtrusive. Sidibé’s gift for staging brings out what is distinctive in his subjects, conferring character, creating personality, re ecting both a sense of communal belong- ing and youth’s quest for individuality.

The photographs testify to an unambiguous complic- ity, a special af nity between the photographer and his subjects. They smile, pose, sometimes strike an exagger- ated attitude, having fun without arti ce or inhibition. Each photograph captures an intimate, light-hearted moment, charged with ephemeral beauty and astonish- ing goodwill.“Sidibé doesn’t take an intellectual approach to his work. If you ask him to discuss his old photographs, the rst thing he talks about is the people; his face lights

1. Gérard Guillat owned the “Photo Service” shop in Bamako.
2.  André Magnin, quoted in Brigitte Ollier, “Malick Sidibé, la photo c’est du tac au tac, c’est plus rapide que le dessin,” Camera No. 2, April–June 2013, p. 6.
3. Ibid., p. 4.