Exhibition Review: Love Power Peace, Malick Sidibé
By Labanya Maitra
“Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Sidibé captured the spirit of a Bamako in transition, and with it the personas of those living in Mali’s capital city,” said Jack Shainman, co-founder of the eponymous Jack Shainman Gallery. “The country had just gained independence from France. Hope and excitement for the future was palpable, and individuals were empowered through self-expression. Malick was there to capture the joy.”
And capture joy he did. The white walls of the gallery were bejeweled with colorful panels framing Sidibé’s black and white “party images.” Sidibé wanted to bring back a hopeful time with his photographs. He would capture his images at parties or in a studio where people would come dressed in the latest fashion of the time.
The exhibition is loosely arranged in two groups: marriage photos and baby photos, aiding the visual flow of the images, a lot of them never seen before.
“The exhibition title is borrowed from a classic James Brown hit,” said Shainman. “Love, power, and peace are all words that fit the energy of the time Sidibé was documenting, and as James Brown was an icon of 1960s Malian youth culture, it seemed like an apt choice. You can easily imagine James Brown playing while so many of Sidibe’s portraits were taken.”
The photographs ranged from candid group shots of friends laughing, couples holding hands, to posed portraits of men and women festively dressed, children shot in studios. “Sidibé really changed the way Westerners viewed Africa,” said Shainman. “His images broke down stigmas and supported universality. They captured the newfound freedom after colonialism — that time, and that moment.”
Sidibé also greatly influenced other artists, added Shainman. “Everyone from Beyoncé and Dev Hynes to Chris Ofili and Janet Jackson have made work inspired by Sidibé’s legacy. Malick Sidibé’s work is a continual touchstone for contemporary artists working across disciplines and that, to me, is what’s most exciting.”
The exhibition also features some of Sidibé’s self-portraits that he created as recent as two years before his death. True to his legacy, most of the photographs are in black and white, but the colorful, ornately painted frames around some of them make the gallery feel alive.
The photographs hardly ever had the same background, a lot of them taken on the go. “I think Malick enjoyed the challenges presented by shooting in different settings,” said Shainman. “When he was in the studio he spent a lot of time staging his subjects and drawing out their individual beauty. In public, there was the excitement of the unknown and always being ready to capture the special moments that came up organically.”
Sidibé’s photographs built a narrative where he let his subjects take control of their own stories and, as a consequence, the people of a culture decided how they would be represented to the world.
“No matter the setting,” said Shainman. “I think above all else he enjoyed the interactions his camera allowed him to have.”
All images courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery.
The Love Power Peace exhibition is showing at the Jack Shainman Gallery on 24th street from June 28th to August 10th, 2018.