How does one portray the spirit of one’s country? Through the faces of its people is an excellent way to start.
Malick Sidibe’ was born in Bamako, in what was then French Sudan (now Mali) in the 1930’s, and it was art who lifted him out of poverty and took him away from a peasant life. Gifted at drawing, he was noticed while in high school and selected to go the School of Sudanese Craftsmen where he approached a photographer and asked him to teach him some technique.
The rest is all in the history of his black and white photographs which hold the undelivered promises of better times to come.
Music, in the form of rock ‘n roll, arrived in Mali at the end of the ’50’s, followed by the independence from France in 1960.
“We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance,” Sidibé told The Guardian in an interview a few years ago. “Music freed us. Suddenly, young men could get close to young women, hold them in their hands. Before, it was not allowed. And everyone wanted to be photographed dancing up close. They had to see it!”
Sidibe opened a studio, where most of the photographs were taken, in addition to documenting parties and dances all over town. The images portray a mixture of pride, happiness and even naiveté of a newly freed people. Despite the black and white, exuberance and color still transpire.
“I stick with black and white, and film,” Sidibe’ says. “It’s what I know. And I can do my own developing and printing. A good photographer should always do that.”
What I love most about these photographs is the lack of self-consciousness of their subjects, betraying an absolute trust in the photographer. “You need a certain savoir-faire to be a photographer. But, above all, I have always been lucky”.
* title inspired by a documentary shot on the artist and titled “Dolce Vita Africana”
All images copyright of Malick Sidibe’