Remembering Malick Sidibé

We asked a handful of artists and photographers to tell us about their experiences with the master photographer Malick Sidibé.

Malick with his son, who manages the studio, instructing a couple on how to pose. January 2011. Photo by Glenna Gordon

We asked a handful of artists and photographers to tell us about their experiences with master photographer Malick Sidibé. Others posted their thoughts on social media. Here are some of their memories.

Vieux Farka Touré — Musician

"Malick Sidibé is a monumental figure of Mali.  I remember him from when he took photos of my father when I was a child. He struck me as someone with a deep soul. He is an icon of Malian and even African culture.  We have lost someone very important to our country who will remain etched forever in our memory."

Thandiswa Mazwai — Singer

I met Malick Sidibé in Bamako in 2009/2010. My partner and I had gone on a holiday to Mali to discover Dogon, the market at Segue, the mosque in Djenne, the festival in the desert and of course we couldn't leave Mali without getting our picture taken by the great Mr Sidibé.

When we first arrived he could not meet as as he was ill but he managed to get out of bed a week later to take the pictures. He was old and frail but so generous with his time and genuinely enjoyed his work. We spoke about his archive and how influential his work had been. It was an effortless and awe inspiring experience and the pictures he took of us are timeless.

I first discovered his work in an article many years ago about the portrait photographers of west Africa which included Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita. I was enchanted by the vision of Africa that his work represented. It was modern, young, vibrant and nothing like what was represented to me before. His work made me want to travel to West Africa. In fact I think this new wave of hipster portrait photography was probably influenced indirectly or otherwise,by his work and vision.

A monument has fallen in Mali. May his soul rest in peace.

"Regardez-moi!" and "Je veux être seule" from Jack Shainman Gallery

Teju Cole — Writer & Photographer

"Malick Sidibé made many great pictures of African modernity. They will outlive him, and us. He showed us as we were, between the desire for solitude (think of his 1979 picture "Je veux être seule") and the wish to be seen and celebrated (think of another famous picture​ from 1962,​ "Regardez-moi!"), between the contained and the exuberant. All of it is there. May his soul rest in peace."

Malick Sidibé with his grandson. Photo by Tanya Bindra

Tanya Bindra — Photographer

Malick Sidibé's photography was rooted in hope and self-expression. As a celebration of youth culture, represented through fashion and music, his photos were somehow rendered timeless even if they pointed to a very specific time in Mali’s history.

I visited Malick in 2012 at his home in Bamako. His bedroom was small, comprised of a single bed on the left and stacks upon stacks of disorganized negatives flooding out of a bookshelf on the right. He talked about some of the scenes he captured, not just in the nightclubs or at his studio, but also in his ancestral village and during the 1968 coup d’état.

Regarding his nightlife photos, he told me that he was a shy person and that he hated dancing. But he was the only young photographer with a flash at the time and people seemed to ignore him when he took pictures, so he continued. This gave me great hope that one day I too could successfully take photos like Malick Sidibé.

Malick SidibŽ's many cameras. At his studio in Bamako, Mali in January 2011. Photo by Glenna Gordon

Glenna Gordon — Photographer

Malick Sidibé created space for joyful pictures that celebrated beauty in many forms. His images document moments of happiness and possibility—both in the youth he photographs, and in the particular moment when he made work, as many countries in Africa transitioned from colonial governments to independent states. These are times when anything could happen

A negative by Malick Sidibé Photo by Glenna Gordon

When I was first living in Africa and learning how to be a photojournalist, I’d take pictures of riots and refugees and send those to newswires, but those images didn’t resonate with my lived experience. A turning point for me professionally was when I started a project on Nigerian weddings where I sought out images of beauty and ritual, and made portraits of people in their best dress—the things I’d seen in Sidibé’s pictures.

"This image is from the last time that I saw him in 2014." Photo courtesy of Aida Muluneh

Aida Muluneh - Photographer

I first met Malick Sidibé back in 2007 when I was exhibiting in the Bamako Biannual. I had been a long time admirer of his work and the massive archive that he had accumulated in his lifetime. He wasn't just a studio photographer but a soul who maintained his conviction to document his people through a lens that offered a different perceptive, one with dignity, elegance, beauty and pride.

He was the witness of his generation and that time period which for us the new generation have a reference point of what it means to be dedicated to your art regardless of whether you get recognition or not. A humble man who embraced all of us with a smile and an elder that we all looked up to, Mr.Sidibé's impact is in all of us who continue to move photography from Africa to the world.

We stand on his shoulders and move forward to continue his journey. In this sense, my images that have the checkered floor is a dedication to him. As the saying goes in our country "Jegna aymotem" which translates "A hero never dies." RIP to our hero.

Baloji — Musician


Malick SidibéŽ with his famous Hasselblad, the medium format film camera that was his tool of choice. Photo by Glenna Gordon
Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

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