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Malick Sidibé

Malick Sidibé, The Giant: Dawoud Bey and Other Artists Pay Tribute to the Malian Photographer

in All Posts/Black Thought by

I saw a post from Senegalese contemporary artist Omar Victor Dip on facebook: “Abasourdi par une triste nouvelle, Malick Sidibé n’est plus… Je m’incline devant la mémoire et l’oeuvre de l’un des Grands. Vous qui l’avez connu, au delà des murs de son studio, je pense à vous.” Stunned by a sad news, Malick Sidibé is no more… I bow to the memory and the work of one of the greats. You who have known, beyond the walls of his studio, I think about you.

Could it be? I wasn’t sad in the way that I emoted at the news of the passing of Phife only a month ago. I felt something else. It’s the feeling of a great loss yet a moment where you find yourself engulfed by sheer awe when you take in the life and prolific work of a man who was a giant. Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé, took a camera and in return delivered to us our humanity, in all of its exquisite glory, right from his meta-progressive studio in metropolitan mid-twenty century Bamako. There would be no Dandy Lion Project without Sidibé – his photography defined everything that we love about US.

So it is with these thoughts and in my desire to pay tribute to giant of a man, turned ancestors, that I turned to my friends to – all enormous artists themselves – to pay tribute to someone who meant so much.

 – Shantrelle P. Lewis

Above Photo Credit: Benoit Facchi


Reflections on Malick Sidibé

“The representation of Africa has long been a fraught one. Conceptualized in the Western imagination as “the dark continent,” the images of and about Africa and Africans were often stereotypical at best and relegated to the misguided or the sterile realm of the anthropological more often than not.

Enter Malick Sidibé and his Rolleiflex camera, a fine German made instrument in the hands of this man from Bamako, Mali determined that there be a visual record of the West African community that was his home and the peoples who were his contemporaries as they emerged from the oppressive shadow of French colonialism in 1960. Photographing first in the spaces where people gathered and socialized and later setting up his studio, his photographs celebrated the exuberant and cosmopolitan Malians in the midst of celebrating themselves, dressed in the latest fashions, dancing the latest steps, posing for the camera in all of their “self possessed-ness” as their presence was permanently fixed and affirmed in his negatives. Colonial subjects no more, liberated into their full and public expressivity!

Sidibé became their collaborator, celebrating and mirroring their presence in his exquisitely crafted black and white photographs, all the while giving the lie to the image of Africans as essentialized peoples of one kind or another, either singularly oppressed and degraded or ennobled beyond the complex places in which they lived. Malick Sidibé’s pictures give the lie to all of that one dimensionality, replacing it with a richness and complexity, an attention to how form, gesture, attention to timing and psychology animate and elevate the person in front of the camera.

Yes, a great tree has fallen, but through his life and his glorious photographs his people remain standing tall, to be celebrated into eternity just as he will be.”

Dawoud Bey 

Malick Sidibe

“I once had the chance to be in his line of sight. Much like my father’s funeral, it was so surreal I honestly cannot recall many details. I remember his studio was in the middle of a crowded market. It was filled with photographs and cameras. I think I remember the color green. I remember that my shutter wouldn’t go off when I pointed my camera at him. I remember he gestured for me to put it down and turn around. I remember his son loaded his film but stepped away so his father could focus.
But I don’t remember the words we exchanged. Perhaps there were none.
I am because he is. Pure and simple.”
 Malick Sidibe
“Sidibé’s images have been one of the constant sources of inspiration for me for various projects I’ve worked on throughout the years. The emotional tenor of the works and the grace they display are a tremendous gift to our shared visual culture.”
“Teacher, inspiration, artist, pioneer, trailblazer Mr Malick Sidibè, is a man I discovered only a few years ago while on my search to discover more about my African heritage and the art and creativity it has brought forth. At the time I had no idea that there had been or were such incredible, conceptual thinking photographers in Africa, creating such eye catching images in the 1960s and 70s. He readdressed the narrative of African culture by representing a new generation of vibrant young Malians to the world in his trade mark monochrome black and white style. The iconic photographs he produced at his studio in Bamako (Mali) during the 1960s and 70s have influenced a whole new generation of image makers including myself. His images cross boundaries and really give us a window back to a time and culture we wouldn’t have otherwise. He was a giant and an inspiration and although today we’ve lost someone extremely special, I’m full of gratitude to God for the life of Malick Sidibé, grateful for his passion, his artistry and the impact his purpose has had on so many of us, as both artists and lovers of African art. RIP.”

“In most of our communities we understand the placement of the individual life as institution. We celebrate the mundane as monument. No one expressed that better than Malik Sidibé in Mali…His portraits were totems in the sanctity of community.”

Shawn Peters


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