Through more than 250 photographs, Mali Twist retraces the extraordinary journey of Malick Sidibé. A large part of the exhibition is devoted to the Bamako soirées, which forged his reputation as “reporter of the youth.” In these photographs, couples intertwine, dancers vie to outdo one another in elegance, and pose or sway their hips to the sounds of twist, rock ‘n’ roll and Afro-Cuban music.
The ensemble is made complete by the folders which Malick Sidibé designed in order to sell his photographs to clients after the soirées. Amongst his vintage photographs are images which have become legendary, such as Nuit de Noël [Christmas Night], Fans de James Brown [Fans of James Brown] or Je suis fou des disques ! [I Am Crazy for Records!].
“In front of my studio it was always very lively! I had put up a large sign: “Studio Malick,” two by one meters, with a neon light. It was the only place that was lit on the exterior.”
The exhibition also highlights the diversity of portraits that Malick Sidibé made in his studio. Young people dressed in the latest fashion, a trio on a motorcycle, children in carnival disguises, women of perfect refinement, beaming adolescents; we find all parts of Bamako’s society in the portraits which have been gathered for the exhibition. By having them pose against a neutral background or a simple curtain, photographed sometimes in close-up, sometimes from low-angle, sometimes from behind, Malick Sidibé composes for each of his models an authentic and spontaneous equivalent on paper. About thirty of these portraits are shown here for the first time.
The many photographs on display in the exhibition, developed by Malick Sidibé in his modest studio in the 1960s and 1970s, constitute the biggest ensemble of vintage prints ever gathered together for an exhibition of the artist’s work. They reflect the wealth of a generous work that is as intuitive as it is enlightened. Finally, one of Malick Sidibé’s most emblematic series offers an escapade to the shores of the Niger where young people once gathered for picnics on Sundays, and listened to records of their favorite hits, while playing, having fun, and swimming, under the watchful eye of Malick Sidibé, the faithful witness to these joyous moments.
The artworks by Congolese painter JP Mika and Ghanaian sculptor Paa Joe, especially created for this exhibition-event, reveal the influence of Malick Sidibé’s work on an entire generation of artists. In addition to Mali Twist, Cosima Spender’s documentary Dolce Vita Africana (2008) is shown on a loop, allowing visitors the opportunity to discover Malick Sidibé’s daily life in Bamako and Soloba, his native village.