Exuberant Youth

Bamako, the capital city of Mali, enjoyed a booming cultural and social life following the country’s independence from France in 1960. Soirées and dance parties became ubiquitous, and young people would frequent them to learn the latest dances from Europe and Cuba, show off their Western fashions and – in the style of teenagers the world over – compete to see who could be most chic. Integral to the scene was Malick Sidibé, known also as the “reporter of the youth”, who rapidly became famous as a chronicler of long Friday and Saturday nights spent dancing to Afro-Cuban music, rock ‘n’ roll and, of course, twist.

Having presented Sidibé’s first solo exhibition outside of Africa in 1995, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, is now paying tribute to the Malian artist with a large-scale retrospective one year after his death on 14 April 2016. Paying homage to the “eye of Bamako” (another nickname), much as he paid homage to the youth culture that surrounded him, Malick Sidibé: Mali Twist includes over 250 photographs, many of which are previously unseen. A large part of the exhibition is devoted to the Bamako soirées and exuberant yet elegant young people who attended them. From sharp suits and angularly turned limbs to ever-widening flares and carefully coiffed hairstyles, Sidibé’s pictures capture the warmth and excitement not just of adolescents in the thralls and thrills of self-discovery, but of a whole nation. Bringing these images to life beyond the gallery and evoking something of the environment in which they were created, the show is complemented by the inclusion of original folders the artist designed in which to sell his photographs to interested party goers.

Visitors can additionally see vintage prints of unique portraits taken in Sidibé’s own Bamako studio – many of them originals he developed in the 1960s –  where character’s from across the city express themselves and the times in which they were living. Finally, in one of his most famous series of photographs on display, Sidibé captures an escape to the banks of the Niger River, where adolescents would meet on Sundays to bathe, picnic, listen to music and enjoy each other’s company. Mali has been subject to some unrest in the last decade, but this show is not just a reminder of a more carefree past. It’s a testament to vitality of youth, and the important of music, dancing and fun.

Ned Carter Miles

Malick Sidibé: Mali Twist is on show at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain from 20 October. For more information: www.fondationcartier.com

1. Nuit de Noël (Happy-club), 1963 Collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris © Malick Sidibé.