Just last month, Zainab Sumu of Primitive Modern launched a collection of t-shirts featuring four classic photographs by Malick Sidibé. The images are superimposed on bright, bold textile designs inspired by indigenous printing techniques from local artisans in Mali.
The Boston-based designer, who’s originally from Sierra Leone, chose two images for the men’s design, including Amis des espagnole (1968), and two for the women’s, featuring Dansez le twists (1965).
Collaborating on a clothing collection was a first for Sidibé, and an opportunity of a lifetime for Sumu, who, like many of us, is heartbroken that he is no longer with us.
We got in touch with Sumu over email shortly after the news of his passing to learn more about her thoughts on working with the iconic photographer. Read more below.
Can you sum up how you came up with this concept and how Malick Sidibé got involved?
Zainab Sumu: I have always been fascinated by Malick’s work and style and also his positive representation of L’esprit Africains. His work was the first to showcase Africans looking stylish and having fun in beautiful settings. Top on my list of things to do whilst I was in Mali, on an inspiration voyage for my debut collection of scarves, was that I seek him out.
Finding the studio was not an easy task but being there was awe inspiring and out of this world. Looking through his archives, Malick was so meticulous and detail oriented. Every single image he took was labeled, dated and filed away—the collection of vintage cameras so beautifully arranged and shelved, the negatives etc. I was like a kid in a candy store. I pinpointed and made notes. I wanted the photographs that evoke fun, beauty and style.
The whole idea came about pretty organically. I had already chosen images I liked. I stayed in touch with the Mody Sidibé and through emails and telephone calls everything just came together. I had showed Linlee Allen (PR mastermind) some of my images from the studio and the idea I had and she was like, “Brilliant idea, do it!” She was really pivotal in having this all come together. The idea of my Djenne collection of prints and his photographs on white t-shirts was a natural marriage, and Malick loved the images we sent.
What was your experience like working with him?
It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience. A blessing and such a honor that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I really got to see my dream become a reality. Since the day I came across his book of photographs I had been obsessively following his work. To go from not just owning his work but getting to collaborate with him is just unbelievable. A once in a lifetime opportunity!
How do you plan on continuing his legacy through your work?
I have been in talks with his family and one of the most important steps we have been discussing is the restoration of his studio space into a gallery/museum-like space for visitors and a support within his studio’s archive department—so as to help keep his legacy in the space where it all started.
For more information on Zainab Sumu and Malick Sidibe’s t-shirt collaboration, head here.