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Mali Twist in Paris
The Iconic Photos of Malick Sidibé

Catherine Conway Honig
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      “I really liked the work but it turned me into a loner.
      I could never get away from it!”
      —Malick SidibĂ©



Nuit de Noël, 1963

In 1963, Time magazine published a list of the “100 Most Influential Photographs of all Time.” A charming black and white photograph of a brother and sister dancing on a cement patio at The Happy Boys Club in the capital of what was then French Sudan, later Mali, entitled Nuit de NoĂ«l (Christmas Night) was on the list. Malick SidibĂ©’s photograph captured the imagination of people around the world for its quiet sensuality and visceral expression of the music and heat of the night.

SidibĂ© worked tirelessly for decades building his reputation as well as enormous collection of prints and negatives. Both a studio portrait photographer and a reporter on the nightlife in Bamako, he captured generations of youth, families and the musical movement known as “Ye-Ye.” Animated by the musical revolution of the 60s that included African pop music as well as rhythm and blues, rock and soul from America and the dances the music inspired, surprise parties would spring up in and around Bamako, and SidibĂ© would be there clicking shots. In the early hours of the morning after the parties, he would print the photographs and lay them out in front of his studio for the party-goers to peruse and/or purchase. The music came to define the fashion and moves of a generation and SidibĂ©’s shots documented the freedom of the moment as well as the fashion and dance trends.

Regardez-moi, 1962

While his reportage photography showed the joy and freedom of a generation coming of age, in the studio he encouraged his subjects to create an identity. He composed the shots by arranging his visitors, finding their best profile, lighting their faces to best catch their features and making their bodies look beautiful. He encouraged the instantaneous discovery of an identity and then captured it in perpetuity.

Fans de James Brown, 1965


Fille en pantelons d’Ă©lĂ©phant, 1973

Born in the rural surroundings of the capital in 1938, SidibĂ©’s artistic talents were noticed early in his childhood. Because of his gifts for drawing, he was encouraged to pursue an artistic education and graduated as a jewelry maker. Later he apprenticed with various photographers and when the country gained its independence from France, he bought the photography equipment of a French soldier who was leaving to return to France. His solo career was launched.

Un yéyé en position, 1963

As his notoriety grew, among the many honors he received, in 2003, was as the first African to receive the International Prize for Photography from the Hasselblad Foundation and in 2007 at the 52nd Venice Biennale he was given the Golden Lion for his lifelong body of work. The following year the International Center for Photography in New York awarded him the Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement. His work was featured in several retrospectives most notably at the Cartier Foundation in Paris.

In April of 2016 Sidibé passed away in his beloved Bamako at the age of 80.

Mère et fille, 1973


Mali Twist continues through February 25, 2018, at the Fondation Cartier, 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris.


Cover photo: Pique-nique à la Chaussée, 1972

All photos courtesy of Collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art
 contemporain, Paris © Malick SidibĂ©

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Scene4 Magazine - Catherine Conway Honig

Catherine Conway Honig is a writer based in Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area, and a Senior Writer with Scene4. For more of her commentary
and articles, check the Archives.

©2018 Catherine Conway Honig
©2018 Publication Scene4 Magazine




February 2018

Volume 18 Issue 9

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