Monday, April 25, 2016

For Malick Sidibé and His Lens Caps

T he world will miss tremendously Malick Sidibé, a wonderful artist campaigning positive messages about his people.
We met several times-- his work and I. On a thought provoking path together, we grew into fond understanding of one another, walking the line of true kindred spirits. 
At Jack Shainman Gallery's West 20th location-- the first solo survey I've ever visited of Sidibé's-- his black and white and sepia toned photographs of black lives in Mali and beyond took apart the Western perception of "uncivilized" people. These images span from various decades, showcasing lively, refined characters whose stories the viewer yearns to know.

With a vast drawing background, Sidibé used this particular brand of technical knowledge to compose elaborate photographic compositions. Scenes featured families, friends, or lovers deliberately schemed in the picture plane, letting audience in on their mysterious intimacy. Sitters weren't traditionally set up. Posed bodies activated negative space; framed rectangulars either riddling with individualized peoples engaged together or a sole distinguished solitary figure. Clothing patterns, braided hair styles, head wraps, and the environments where these sophisticated, very unique designs exist play pivotal storytelling role. 
Sidibé captures a natural, engaging choreography-- youth around motorcycles, young girls in a classroom, people embracing one another-- love is etched everywhere. Familiarity in the unfamiliar, in a continent miles away, exists a beautiful organization, a balance that audiences can comprehend from depths of heart and soul. Although Sidibé's handwriting touches bottoms of his images, this knowledge breathing raw candor in the pictures unites and engages without the use of verbal language. It's the physical stuff that compels a deeper, more intuitive perception of Africa, of African lives.

In the back of the room, in a short looping video, Sidibé is a ray of light, a beacon of hope and happiness. He is sweet, charming, and delighted, a humble artist, discussing photography's significant role in his life and to those seeking him out, desiring to immortalized. The medium has importance to the community. Frequentl they invited him to varied parties and social functions, giving him and his eager camera an accessible taste of vibrancy. With camera strapped around his neck, standing outside of his studio, is a melodious frame cementing a man's joy of taking pictures, of proving tremendous contribution to his community through art.
"You don't choose. You are called. You are recommended in advance, so you go to someone's wedding, someone's christening... We were recommended, and I was lucky enough at that time to be the intellectual young photographer with a small camera who could move around."

To Mr. Sidibé-- I would say this- thank you for sharing your vision, for letting us see a beautiful scope of Africa through your lens, a lens of vignette sonnets and vintage storytelling. May these truths continue to bring pleasure to those who have the gracious opportunity to be blessed in the presence of your awe inspiring photography.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I learned of someone new today. I've already started looking up his work. You have a really beautiful way with words.

    1. You're welcome!
      He was a phenomenal artist who will be missed by the many people he inspired. I'm glad you looked up his other works too! That made my day! :)