Western accoutrements on the frames of young men barely out of boyhood. Nattily dressed bodies cutting sharp figures against patterned, simplistic sets. Well coiffed, regal women turned out in traditional African garb. Nearly nude forms entwined in casual embrace, or posed, just so, for dramatic effect...
Although I am more of a Seydou Keita fan (for the play between natural light and naturalistic posing in his portraiture), the moments of careful self-fashioning, projection, and abandonment in Malick Sidibé's photography were a sublime, precious thing to witness recently at the Somerset House in London.
'The Eye of Modern Mali' made for an endearing exhibition that touched on the seemingly banal ways a newly post-independent people could claim ownership over their identity, with Sidibé's famed Bagadadji space on Corner 19, 30th Street serving as the hallowed conduit for transformation. The first solo exhibition of Sidibé's works in London, the show was an incisive representation of a burgeoning Bamako modernism through the eyes of both the late lensman, and his compliant sitters.
Each frame, however, makes it clear that Sidibé was the chief enabler of the scenes captured on film. Capable of blending into the sets, disappearing behind the camera, or easily fading into the crush of bodies at a 1960s fete, his imagery reflects what most admirers of modernist African photography have come to associate with Sidibe's oeuvre: a rare sense of honesty, as if the viewer was made privy to a secret, innocent truth.
See a selection of images from the exhibition, below, and listen to the exhibition soundtrack here.
Words & Exhibition Images | Lisa-Marie Harris
Malick Sidibé's: 'The Eye of Modern Mali'
Oct. 6th 2016 – Feb 26th 2017
Somerset House, London