CONSIDERED ON OF THE MOST influential photographers of his time, Malick Sidibé has died at age 80. For more than half a century, the Malian photographer documented the post-independence cultural transformation in his native country. He was recognized for his legendary studio portraits and dynamic street shots, bringing Mali’s people and culture to life in vintage and contemporary black-and-white photographs.

According to the Associated Press, Sidibe died late Thursday due to complications from diabetes. The Guardian reported that the photographer’s nephew Oumar Sidibé said he had been ill for some time.

Sidibe is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, where an exhibition of his work is currently on view through April 23. Many of the photographs are being exhibited for the first time and the gallery describes the selection as capturing “a pervasive sense of freedom and identity amongst youth in postcolonial Mali and continue to speak to a shared spirit of modernity and diaspora.”

In a statement, Jack Shainman offered the following remembrance of Sidibe who has been represented by his gallery since 2002:

    “Malick’s passing brings great sadness and his absence from the art world will surely be felt widely. Personally, he was a humble, kind man with a warm heart and I am honored to have worked with him.

    I have many fond memories of Claude and I visiting his studio in Mali; he was very gracious and welcomed us into his practice. He introduced us to many of the sitters in Vue de dos, as well as family, friends and neighbors. It was clear he was revered and respected by all.

    I am proud to say his creative influence continues, with contemporary artists and musicians across pop culture still drawing inspiration from his iconic photographs, decades after he began his groundbreaking career. Malick’s dynamic celebration of life lives on in these joyful images.

    The gallery will do our best to continue his outstanding legacy through our exhibition and ongoing advocacy of his tremendous body of work.”


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MALICK SIDIBE, “Surprise Party,” 1964/2004 (gelatin silver print). | © Malick Sidibé. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


BORN IN MALI in 1936, Sidibe lived and worked in Bamako. His innovative photography documented a nation’s history. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, he captured the promise of Mali as it emerged from French colonization becoming an independent nation influenced by Western modernity. He ran a formal portrait studio, where patterned fabric backdrops played against prints worn by his subjects; took candid street photographs long before it became a phenomena in the fashion world; and was particularly known for his images of youth culture and the local night club and music scenes. He continued to work in the decades beyond until his death.

In 2007, Sidibe was the first photographer and first African to receive the Venice Biennial’s prestigious Golden Lion lifetime achievement award. His photographs have been exhibited around the world and are in the collections of major museums.

Sidibe influenced his contemporaries and inspired a new generation of artists including British painter Chris Ofili, who is based in Trinidad. Ofili greatly admired the photographer and traveled to Bamako a couple of years ago to sit for him.

In a 2010 interview with John Henley in The Guardian Sidibé explained his approach: “To be a good photographer you need to have a talent to observe, and to know what you want. You have to choose the shapes and the movements that please you, that look beautiful. Equally, you need to be friendly, sympathique. It’s very important to be able to put people at their ease. It’s a world, someone’s face. When I capture it, I see the future of the world. I believe with my heart and soul in the power of the image, but you also have to be sociable. I’m lucky. It’s in my nature.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Nov. 5, 2011, Malian photographer Malick Sidibe gestures as he instructs subjects during a portrait session at his studio in Bamako, Mali. Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA, Getty Images


To read further about Malick Sidibe, consider “Malick Sidibe,” a recent monograph, “Malick SIdibe: Potographs,” and “You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe.”


Scholar Manthia Diawara visits with his friend and fellow Malian Malick Sidibe and discusses the genesis of his practice.


MALICK SIDIBE, “Mr. Cissé le pharmacien,” 1973, 2001 (silver gelatin print, Edition 3). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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MALICK SIDIBE, “Jeune Fille avec,” 1970/2004 (silver gelatin print, glass, paint, cardboard, tape, and string). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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MALICK SIDIBE, “Les Faux Agents,” (silver gelatin print). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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MALICK SIDIBE, Detail of “Vues de dos,” 2003/2004 (vintage silver gelatin print, glass, paint, cardboard, tape, and string). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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MALICK SIDIBE, “Couple de danseurs de Beatles – Club Bagadadji,” (silver gelatin print). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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MALICK SIDIBE, “1st Mai – Saute,” 1972/2004 (vintage silver gelatin print, glass, paint, cardboard, tape, and string). | Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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