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Malick Sidibé at Lichfield Studios

Malick Sidibé, Standing Ladies,1975, Courtesy the artist Andre Magnin and Tristan Hoare

Exhibition preview

UNSEEN work by Mali’s most celebrated living photographer Malick Sidibé will be on display at the Lichfield Studios in London from March 11 to April 16, 2010.

Sidibé, who became the first photographer to be awarded the Lion d’Or for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2007, is now internationally respected for his black and white photographs that capture the transformation and energy of post-colonial Bamako, Mali’s capital city.

His presence in Europe ranges from a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London (2003) to working alongside fashion designer Marc Jacobs.

Before the arrival of colour photography and instant processing, the studio photographers of Mali flourished in what was later considered the Golden Age of West African portraiture. Seventeen African countries gained independence in 1960, creating a huge demand for identity papers for working people who could now travel across national borders.

Sidibé launched ‘Studio Malick’ in 1962, at this key moment in Mali’s history. His talent and charm won him a fashionable, young clientele, not only for portraiture, but also to see the pictures that he began to take of Bamako’s nightlife. He was one of the first studio photographers in Bamako to take a lighter 35mm camera outside to parties, weddings and picnics.

Emerging from colonial rule, the city was in the throes of celebration and self-expression and his work records this exuberance. The move into documentary work was an important moment in the evolution of West African photography, with local photographers entering territory that had been the domain of their European counterparts, many of whom now left the country.

Malick Sidibé, Three Friends, 1975, Courtesy the artist, Andre Magnin and Tristan Hoare

Robert Storr, the 2007 curator of the Venice Biennale, who recommended Sidibé for the lifetime award said: “No African artist has done more to enhance photography’s stature in the region, contribute to its history, enrich its image archive or increase our awareness of the textures and transformation of African culture in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.”

A selection of Sidibés trademark small format portraits as well as his images of Bamako nightlife, will be shown at Lichfield Studios. Customers would flock to the studio to have their photo taken with their new watch, handbag or even socks from St Germain des Près, French labels being the ultimate status symbol.

Others would come to spot themselves attempting the Malian Twist at a local dance event, or out at a weekend picnic by the River Niger. As Sidibé’s reputation grew, his Studio became popular with all ages, with families posing for formal group shots.

Nowadays Studio Malick is still an active workspace, where thousands of boxed negatives, spanning over 30 years, are shelved and stored and Sidibé continues to repair and add to his collection of hundreds of vintage cameras.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 6pm.

Lichfield Studios, 133 Oxford Gardens, London, W10 6NE (nearest Tube: Ladbroke Grove or Latimer Road).