Malick Sidibé’s Work Will Live On After Death

The iconic Malian photographer passed away this week. We look back at Malick Sidibé’s career.

Malick Sidibé self-portrait, 1956, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It’s hard to grasp the impact Malick Sidibé’s work has had on our globalized visual culture. The legendary Malian photographer passed away this week in Bamako but his legacy is everywhere from the biggest fashion publications and music videos to the hundreds, if not thousands, of humble West African photo studios working in the portrait style that he helped pioneer.

Beginning in the late 50s, shortly before Malian independence, Sidibé took his camera to parties capturing young Malians as they celebrated life. The energy and beauty captured in these photos are as striking today as when they were taken.

Sidibé later focused his energy on his photo studio where he worked within the Malian studio photography-style to create the now iconic portraits that has made him internationally famous.

Later in life, this studio became a pilgrimage site for photographers and photo-enthusiasts from around the world. In 2010 he told The Guardian:

The studio was like no other. It was... relaxed. I did formal family shots, too, but often it was like a party. People would drop by, stay, eat. I slept in the developing room. They'd pose on their Vespas, show off their new hats and trousers and jewels and sunglasses. Looking beautiful was everything. Everyone had to have the latest Paris style. We had never really worn socks, and suddenly people were so proud of theirs, straight from Saint Germain des Près! It was, a fantastic period. Unique.

We will be posting memories of Sidibé all next week from artists and photographers who have been influenced by him and who knew him.

For now, I’ll leave you one of my own:

Long before I knew anything about the portrait style that Sidibé pioneered, I was a North American teen completely infatuated with Janet Jackson’s video for "Got ‘Til it’s Gone." The video's references to South Africa's Drum Magazine alongside West African portraiture, and Sidibé’s work in particular, were arresting without any context at all and are just as impressive years later. It’s worth a watch.

More recently the French-Malian pop star star Inna Modja’s 2015 video for "Tombouctou" takes it one step further. This family friend of Sidibé shot her video in his studio in his visual style. It’s a stunning clip and a phenomenal song to boot.

Sidibé’s star is as strong today as it ever was. Earlier this week, Okayafrica contributor Tinashe TK reviewed the Sidibé show on now at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. He said about the work:

The strength of Sidibé’s images emanates not so much in the craftsmanship or technique he employs, but rather in the sincere directness with which the subjects meet the gaze of the camera. When you are looking at them looking back at you, it is almost as if they are daring you.

In a 2009 interview on the photo blog American Suburb X, Sidibe described what it was like during his early days.

In the 1960s, girls would sneak out of their houses to go dance. They would put something in their father’s glass of water so he would sleep and not notice when they left the house. Mothers were always the girls’ accomplices, and they were the ones who opened the door for them when they came home in the morning.

He also talked about his renown among Malians

Something curious and extraordinary is that now all of Mali knows my studio. Children, who normally call grown men tonton or “dad,” call me by my name, because names are the most important thing for artists. There are also women from the countryside who have named their own children Malick, and that fills me with pride.

We will be sharing more memories of the great photographer in the next few days. If you want to share your own memories please get in touch via submissions at okayafrica dot com.

Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Freddie Harrel Is Building Conscious Beauty For and With the African Diaspora

Formerly known as "Big Hair Don't Care", creator Freddie Harrel and her team have released 3 new wig shapes called the "RadShapes" available now.

Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

The normalising of Black and brown women in wigs of various styles has certainly been welcomed by the community, as it has opened up so many creative avenues for Black women to take on leadership roles and make room for themselves in the industry.

Radswan (formerly known as Big Hair Don't Care), is a lifestyle brand "bringing a new perspective on Blackness through hair, by disrupting the synthetic market with innovative and sustainable products." Through their rebrand, Radswan aims to, "upscale the direct-to-consumer experience holistically, by having connected conversations around culture and identity, in order to remove the roots of stigma."

The latest from French-Cameroonian founder and creator Freddie Harrel - who was featured on our list of 100 women of 2020 - has built her career in digital marketing and reputation as an outspoken advocate for women's empowerment. On top of her business ventures, the 2018 'Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year' uses her platform to advocate for women's empowerment with 'SHE Unleashed,' a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism and sexism.

And hair is clearly one of her many passions, as Freddie says, "Hair embodies my freest and earliest form of self expression, and as a shapeshifter, I'm never done. I get to forever reintroduce my various angles, tell all my stories to this world that often feels constrained and biased."

Armed with a committee of Black women, Freddie has cultivated Radswan and the aesthetic that comes with the synthetic but luxurious wigs. The wigs are designed to look like as though the hair is growing out of her own head, with matching lace that compliments your own skin colour.

By being the first brand to use recycled fibres, Radswan is truly here to change the game. The team has somehow figured out how to make their products look and feel like the real thing, while using 0% human hair and not negotiating on the price, quality or persona.

In 2019, the company secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital participating, along with angelic contributions from Hannah Bronfman, Nashilu Mouen Makoua, and Sonja Perkins.

On the importance of representation and telling Black stories through the products we create, Freddie says, "Hair to me is Sundays kneeling between your mothers or aunties legs, it's your cousin or newly made friend combing lovingly through your hair, whilst you detangle your life out loud. Our constant shapeshifting teaches us to see ourselves in each other, the hands braiding always intimately touching our head more often than not laying someone's lap."

"Big Hair No Care took off in ways we couldn't keep up with," she continues, "RadSwan is our comeback.It's a lifestyle brand, it's the hair game getting an upgrade, becoming fairer and cleaner. It's the platform that recognises and celebrates your identity as a shapeshifter, your individuality and your right to be black like you."

Check out your next hairstyle from Radswan here.

Radswan's RadShape 01Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Radswan's RadShape 02Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Radswan's RadShape 03Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

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