“In Africa, when an old man dies, a library burns,” says one of the many handwritten signs stored in the Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island, off Dakar. Although this strong image refers to the oral tradition of African culture, it also seems appropriate to talk about Malick Sidibé. This extraordinary storyteller was born in 1936 in the village of Soloba, Mali, but moved at a very young age to the capital, Bamako, where he died April 14. The only difference was that even though he left quietly and discreetly, as was his nature, his photographic archive will continue to tell us about 50 years of history, again and again.
Certainly in the early ‘90s, when André Magnin discovered him, after crossing the threshold of his study located in the Bagadadji district (where the Malick Studio opened in 1962) he never imagined he would become a star, consecrated at the Venice Art Biennale with the golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 2007 and honored by numerous awards, including the Hasselblad award (2003) and the World Press Photo 2010.
“In 1991, at the New York Center of African Arts, I saw ‘Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art,’ an exhibition devoted to primitive African to contemporary art,” Magnin said. “There were five old photographs whose caption said ‘Anonymous/Bamako/Mali/’50s. I spoke to Pigozzi and told him that if the author was still alive, I’d find him. I bought a plane ticket to Mali, booked a modest hotel and hired a driver. I told him I wanted to meet the photographers of the city. He took me to Malick Sidibé, who was the only photographer who was still working in his studio. I showed him copies of the pictures I had seen in New York and he immediately recognized that they had been shot by Seydou Keïta and introduced me to him.