SARTORIAL LOOKS #36
STUDIO PORTRAITURE | Portrait ca 1965 by Malick Sidibe.
Image by Vittore Buzzi from the Interview
The Smiling Eyes – A Portrait of Malick Sidibé.
Malick Sidibé was born in 1936 in Soloba, a village 300
kilometres away from Bamako. In 1955 he graduated in drawing
and jewellery-making at the Sudanese School of crafts, where he
was the first of his course. Young Sidibé became fascinated with
photography and decided to stay with Guillat-Guignard as his
apprentice, after having received the assignment to decorate the
French photographer’s shop. In 1957 he started making his first
reportages of parties, christenings and weddings. In 1960 he
started his career as a free-lancer and in 1962 he opened the
Studio Malick, in the popular neighbourhood of Bagadadji,
where he continued his activity as portraitist.
At the same time Sidibé depicted the nights of Bamako and the
holiday afternoons spent on the banks of the Niger river: Mali
had won its independence just two years before and the Country
was full of new energy and enthusiasm. News and information
went around, films arrived from Europe, India and the United
States, but it was mostly music that brought fast and
widespread changes with it in Bamako society.
The photographer attended the parties of young people wearing
Western clothes and dancing to the music of record players: his
photographs depicted joyful youths, full of zest for life and
hopes for their future. Night clubs with exotic names were
opening everywhere in town and Sidibé was invited to all big
events: his fame was so great that if he could not participate,
then they would change the time or even the day of the event.
In the late 1970’s, Sidibé decided to focus his activity on studio
portraits. After having exchanged a few words with the people
to make them feel at ease, Sidibé himself would choose their
pose for the sitting, succeeding in grasping the essence of their
personality in just a few snaps.
In 1994, during the first edition of Rencontres de la
Photographie de Bamako, his portraits were exhibited for the
first time together with Seydou Keïta’s works (another great
author from Bamako who was about ten years his senior and
died in 2001). Western authors and critics discovered their
talent. Soon after that Sidibé’s photographs went to Paris, at
first at Fnac Etoile and later at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art
contemporaine; in just a short while museums and galleries
from all over the world started exhibiting his works. The
author still lives and works in Bamako. Today Sidibé is
considered Africa’s most important living photographer. In
2007 the Venice Biennale honoured him with the Golden Lion
for the career, awarded for the first time to a photographer. In
2003 he won the Hasselblad Prize in Sweden, in 2008 the ICP
Award in New York, in 2009 the prize PhotoEspaña-Baume &
Mercier in Madrid, and this year the World Press Photo for the
Arts and Entertainment Section in Amsterdam. Many
publications and books on his work have been printed in
Europe, the United States and Africa.