Malick Sidibé’s photographs are internationally recognized for their narrative exploration of identity and a particular swagger born of youth culture in 1960s Mali. Emboldened by their nation’s recent independence from France, his subjects confidently revel in their stature as members of an emerging modern decolonized nation.
Accordingly, TWIST! Avec Ray Charles, 1969-2008, is the first photograph on view in the seventh exhibition of Sidibe’s work at Jack Shainman Gallery, on view through August 10. A magnetic young woman gazes directly at the camera and holds a sign announcing a dance party featuring the iconic American singer. Sidibé’s signature rhythmic composition of the body in space is at play in this work, seen in the subtle angles of hands, shoulders, and legs against a painted wall and window dissected in thirds. The photograph suggests an intercontinental connection and the flavor of Mali’s nascent party vibe.
Two salon-style installations within the exhibition break up a steady flow of black-and-white framed photographs. The collections of small-scale images, one a set of wedding portraits and the other baby portraits, feature vintage gelatin-silver prints in handmade frames made of glass, paint, cardboard, tape, and string. Most of the mats bordering the prints feature colorful, loosely painted variations on leaf motifs. The expressions of the sitters in Sidibé’s matrimonial images convey a certain solemnity, but the subjects in Marriage Sissoko, 1966/2004, look playfully at each other, entranced in their own sense of seduction and adoration.
Shot in 2014 (two years before Sidibe died) for The New Yorker and exhibited for the first time here, a series of four portraits of renowned painter Chris Ofili are staged against three clashing surfaces – a striped backdrop, an African textile curtain pushed to the side, and a checkerboard floor. The set reflects Sidibé’s eye for the asymmetrical and offers a striking counterpoint to Ofili’s masculine, black-clad presence within the frames. Sidibé’s portraits capture a mature man seasoned with age, success, and the evolution of a global diaspora of black artists. One of the four portraits features Ofili and Sidibé knowingly beaming at the camera in mutual admiration and joy.