Malick Sidibé / Forbidden Freedoms

Nuit De Noël © Malick Sidibé

Malick Sidibé opened Studio Malick in the Bagadadji neighborhood of Bamako, Mali, in 1962. Unlike those of his predecessors, his studio was an electrified indoor establishment that achieved its heyday during the 1960s and ’70s. Although Sidibé favors studio portraiture, which often commemorates special occasions and captures clients looking their best, he is arguably most renowned worldwide for party photographs that showcase his capacity to frame bodies in motion.

During the 1960s, photographic settings became more intimate, reflecting the interests and activities of youthful clientele, including domestic interiors and courtyards as well as local beaches along the Niger River. This change was enabled by technological advances, such as medium-format flash cameras and safety celluloid film, which rendered the medium increasingly accessible and portable. Of the same generation as their subjects, photographers like Sidibé and later his assistants actively participated in the social circles they depicted. Early in the decade, Sidibé’s images captured the optimism of the independence era and the ecstatic energy of Bamako’s youth expressing their individuality at neighborhood parties and dances. Participating in an international cultural revolution, these individuals rallied behind rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues music, pursuing social liberties and trends promoted by performers such as James Brown.

Under the repressive socialism of President Modibo Keïta (1960–68) in the mid-1960s and the subsequent military dictatorship of President Moussa Traoré (1968–91), Studio Malick’s photographs represent the irreverent attitudes and activities of men and women in Bamako who were frustrated by and defied restrictive governmental policies. Violating curfew, they organized and attended late-night parties, wore provocative Western clothing, and enjoyed imported consumer goods such as records and alcohol, at times illegally. Thus, portraits made by Sidibé and his assistants during the late 1960s and ’70s depict recalcitrant individuals enjoying forbidden freedoms.

Words : Candace M. Keller / Found : Guggenheim.org

Soirée familiale © Malick Sidibé
Friends © Malick Sidibé
Regardez-Moi © Malick Sidibé

Curated by DJ, presenter and African music expert Rita Ray, this Spotify soundtrack was created to accompany his exhibition at Somerset House in 2016. It features an eclectic mix of music which would have accompanied Sidibé’s photoshoots, from British and American rock ‘n’ roll and pop songs to Malian roots music – recreating the spirit and soul of the nightclubs Sidibé frequented every weekend and the party atmosphere of his own Studio Malick.