Africa lost one of its greatest photographers, yesterday: Malick Sidibé of Mali. Popularly known as “The Eye of Bamako”, Sidibé showed the world the true richness of African culture through his splendid collections of photographs.
Born in the Malian capital of Bamako in 1935, Malick defied the odds of poverty and social injustice to establish a career that the world still highly admires. Although his photographs were specifically meant to unveil the popular culture of Mali in the 1960s, the astute photographer was able to project the lenses of his camera to represent Africa as whole and all the lovely untold stories of the continent.
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Sidibé’s iconic handiwork was intensely felt during the transitional moment of Mali’s independence in 1960. Specializing in documentary photography, the young and brilliant photographer was able to distinctly capture the memorable moments of youth culture in Bamako, where he seemed to leave no sport events, beaches, nightclubs or concerts uncovered.
Call him the African master of photography: Sidibé has gained for himself world recognition even back in the day when he established himself in several public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, all in New York, as well as the Getty Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in California – a feat which saw his works revered as that which even stands tall against the National Geographic type images! His work continues to have international appeal, appearing in Paris, Japan and also the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) of Jean Pigozzi, just to name a few.
Considering his handwork and persistence, in 2007 Sidibé became the first African photographer to be awarded the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in Italy – a record which he continues to hold even as he gets to his grave.
One of the finest arts academics of his time, Robert Storr has encapsulated Sidibé’s feats in this statement:
“No African artist has done more to enhance photography’s stature in the region, contribute to its history, enrich its image archive or increase our awareness of the textures and transformations of African culture in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st than Malick Sidibé.”
Social media has been abuzz since the news broke, with tributes from every major news and photography organization down to fans and his fellow Malians posting their favorite photos and memories of him. One of Mali’s younger artists, Fulani singer Inna Modja tweeted: “I’ve known Photographer Malick Sidibe all my Life. His smile & kindness was ✨? I will always Love you #MalickSidibe” followed with a few treasured photographs.
— Inna Modja Official (@Innamodja) April 15, 2016
With such international presence and respect, hopes are high that Malick Sidibé would receive a state funeral in Mali, especially when his images have not just well documented the country’s independence and post independence era but also has it left behind a formidable statement of how blessed Africa is with artists!