It’s cold and Paris is under siege from the sheets of rain presently drenching the city, but I’m not deterred. I’m on a mission and, as I shake the water from my umbrella and cross the threshold of the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, I’m surprised to find what resembles more of an after-hours party than an art exhibit. People bob their heads while studying the black-and-white photographs on the wall–the more rhythmically-inclined sway to the über-cool soundtrack being piped in through the gallery’s sound system.
Welcome to the world of artist Malick Sidibé.
The renowned Malian photographer died in 2016 but made his mark on the international art world with his black-and-white pop culture studies that depicted the swinging nightlife of la jeunesse (the youth) of West Africa in the 60s and 70s during the nascent years after independence. The exhibition’s title, Mali Twist, comes from the 1963 song by famed Malian guitarist Boubacar Traoré. Captured by Sidibé’s lens are partygoers decked out in butterfly collars, exaggerated bell-bottoms in a dizzying array of patterns, platform shoes and, most importantly, a heavy dose of nonchalant cool. Gallery after gallery of his work pulls the curtain back on an Africa that is rarely made known to the world; the photos could very well be of New York disco clubs from the same era. And really it is an easy connection to make–the music playing throughout the exhibit is full of smartly curated American oldies from Aretha Franklin to Smokey Robinson. This intersection of African art and American music speaks to Sidibé’s global reach.
By the 1990s, his work had begun to garner attention outside of the continent and in 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion Award at Venice Biennale, becoming the first photographer and African to do so. Over 300 photographs, including 30 never-before-seen studio portraits culled from Sidibé‘s vast archive of negatives, are on display at what could easily be considered the coolest party in town.
Mali Twist runs until February 25th; visit the website for ticket information.
* The photographs included in this post are the sole work and property of Malick Sidibe.