Malick Sidibé’s Bamako-Style

A metaphor of happiness and a joyful life.


From 3 June to 26 July, Madrid’s art galleries take part in the PHotoEspaña 2009 agenda with photography and videoart programmes. 42 exhibition complete the 12th program of the Festival. One extraordinary exhibition of West-African artist Malick Sidibé can be seen at the Off Festival section at the Oliva Arauna Gallery.

Malick Sidibé , born in Mali in 1936, started to work at the studio of Gérard Guillat-Guignard in Bamako in 1955, known in the city as “Gégé, la pellicule” and opened his own studio, Studio Malick, in 1958. Like Seydou Keïta before him, Malick Sidibé started with studio portraits. But unlike his prodecessor, he soon became a street photographer and the only young reporter in Bamako at that time. His Bamako night captures marked him.

His images document popular culture in his city with a pure gaze, and the large number of photos obtained during the 1970s led to a vast catalogue of urban typologies due to sincere documentary work free from superiority complexes that has produced a photographic oeuvre without the prejudices found in a Western view of other cultures.


“During the Seventies, the Europeans believed that we were living naked in the trees. However, on the hand, we were as trendy as them”. Malick Sidibé is talking with irony about his portraits. The series of photographs exhibited at Oliva Arauna have never been shown in Spain before and many of them are unknown. They were taken at the beginning of the 60s and 70s, reflecting life in Mali full of hope and happiness right after the independence of France. Thousands of negatives have been kept in old Kodak boxes in his studio until they became recreated in 1994.


Malick Sidibé’s photos show boys with sunglasses and Bell-bottoms and girls dressed in colourful traditional and cocktail dresses, handbags and even short skirts. Sidibé went to parties to find a record player where the young people danced to James Brown songs. Malick Sidibé portrays a country, trying to become modern without forgetting its own tradition. Sidibé’s portraits transmit energy and enjoyment, his characters are almost always smiling. His photos are a metaphor of happiness and a joyful life.

Oliva Arauna Gallery, Calle Barquillo 29, Madrid

Malick Sidibé

Dates: 29 May – 18 July

Some other original photos can be seen at

Teatro Fernán Gómez. Centro de Arte, Plaza de Colón 4, Madrid

Años 70. Fotografía y vida cotidiana. Exposición colectiva.

Dates: 2 June – 27 July

More information: PHotoEspaña



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