D’une famille peule, Malick Sidibé est né en 1935 à Soloba, un village au sud de Bamako, près de la frontière guinéenne. Remarqué pour ses talents de dessinateur, il est admis à l’école des artisans soudanais de Bamako, où il obtient son diplôme en 1955. Il fait ses premiers pas dans la photographie auprès de Gérard Guillat, dit « Gégé la Pellicule », et ouvre le Studio Malick en 1962 dans le quartier de Bagadadji, au coeur de la capitale malienne. Les portraits qu’il y réalise reflètent la complicité qu’il crée naturellement avec ses clients. Malick Sidibé s’implique tout autant dans la vie culturelle et sociale de Bamako, en pleine effervescence depuis l’indépendance du pays en 1960, et devient une figure incontournable très appréciée de la jeunesse. Il est le photographe le plus demandé pour couvrir les soirées et surprises-parties où les jeunes découvrent les danses venues d’Europe et de Cuba, s’habillent à la mode occidentale et rivalisent d’élégance. Pendant les vacances et les week-ends, ces soirées durent jusqu’à l’aube et se prolongent sur les rives du fleuve Niger. De ses reportages de proximité, Malick Sidibé rapporte des instantanés emplis de musique, d’authenticité et de joies partagées, qui sont autant de témoignages inestimables d’une époque pleine d’espoir.
He was reserved; he did not dance but liked the parties, the atmospheres, the music. These young people—mods and yé-yé, bell-bottoms and platform shoes— amused him a lot. They were swinging to the rumba, the hula-hoop, the cha-chacha. Kar Kar, nicknamed “Blouson Noir” (black leather jacket), drove his scooter while his hits “Mali Twist” and “Kayeba” played over and over on Radio Mali. The youth in the poor neighborhoods banded together in clubs that competed with each other. The As (Aces), Saint-Germaindes- Prés, Beatles, Caïds (Big Bosses), Djentlemanes, Rivingstones, Zazous…
Having the best records, a wardrobe à la mode, and the class of a movie actor was indispensable for attracting the prettiest girls. Malick was the guarantee of a fabulous evening. They were all trying to outdo each other, like Garrincha, who danced the twist so well and so fast that he was called the best “dribbler” of all times. A real performance! Malick was expected, his table was waiting for him with a coffee. He inspired trust because he was too sincere to “steal” pictures. His flash served to announce his arrival. “Malick’s here!” The party could get underway. The atmosphere was immediate because he brought good humor with him. His pleasure was their pleasure. His eye was objective and generous—there was no distance between the dandies, seducers, and courting couples who were showing off and Malick who was in search of good poses. He let himself be carried away by them in order to provide the most genuine pictures. His photography was based on what loomed up, what happened by chance, the good connection. He counted on presence, immortalized moments. Nuit de Noël, with its
infinite softness and gentleness, is an instant snatched from time. His pictures reveal a keen awareness of fortunate coincidences that required him to be tireless, generous, affectionate. All his life, from his childhood in Soloba to the prestigious Hasselblad Prize and the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, Malick said that he had been lucky, that it was his destiny, a gift from God. In fact, he was a clear, living proof of the gravitational pull of events. Malick communicated his happiness, he invested himself. He loved the young people and they loved him. All of his work comes from there, from that love.
In 1994, Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé were at the center of the first Bamako Encounters for photography and they were widely honored. In 1994 and 1995, they had their first exhibitions outside of Mali, at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, and had books published by Scalo founder Walter Keller, “photography’s man in a hurry.” Malick traveled widely and became famous around the world. He brought a great deal of happiness to others and enjoyed a great deal of prestige.
On June 10, 2007, Malick received the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement before a crowd of journalists, photographers, and reporters. Holding the Golden Lion over his head with his two hands, he was in seventh heaven: “I could never have dreamed of such a wonderful story. I did it all for my village and my family.” His eyes were filled with tears as we hugged each other.
By André Magnin, curator of the exhibition
text from the catalog