Malick Sidibé

The 1960s

In Germany, the 1960s have become a synonym for protest. Post-war society was dyed-in-the-wool conservative and prudish, the foremost duty of any citizen was not to draw attention to himself. Until a new generation came along and crushed underfoot the things which had, until then, been so loved and cherished. Like all real revolts, it was a young people’s revolt. Miniskirts, flared jeans and long hair were all the rage; free love was propagated; Rock ’n’ Roll was on the turntables, and the streets became a venue for demonstrations. The protest extended to cover all segments of culture and society, and the search for a personal identity became at least as important as concrete changes.

Mali also saw social upheaval in the 1960s. The former French colony had just been granted independence. Political liberation inspired a self-confident younger generation to embark on the search for identity and a new joie de vivre. However, in many strata of the population the thirst for freedom and national self-determination was not expressed by a reawakening of the original African culture that had been suppressed for so long, but culminated in the imitation of the culture of the European colonizers. There is no separating Malick Sidibé’s photographs from the social and historical context of his hometown of Bamako; they offer an insight into the search of young Malians for their own identity and document how they vacillate between African tradition and the modern Western world.

As in most other societies, in Mali your hairstyle, clothes, jewelry and particular objects count as status symbols. In Malick Sidibé’s photographs, the women are thus proud of their hair and dresses, and the men like to don a suit and tie, or a flower-power shirt and flared jeans, posing on motorcycles or with a portable stereo system. Many of these status symbols were props from Sidibé’s studio and did not actually belong to those portrayed in the pictures. They emphasize the wish for prestige and a desire to know the Western world.

Back in the 1960s, incidentally, Malick Sidibé saw himself neither as a chronicler of the change in cultural values nor as an artist. He was a freelance photographer who had to live on the proceeds of what he made in his studio. Like his older colleague, Seydou Keïta, he declared, “I photographed my clients the way they wanted to see themselves in the photograph.”

Biographical information

around 1935

born in Soloba, Mali

lived and worked in Bamako, Mali

2016

dies in Bamako, Mali