Keita, Sidibé and Fosso

The photographers in this exhibition are some of the leading names in African photography: Seidou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Samuel Fosso. They represent three different generations in the development of a theme central to African photography: the photographic portrait. Seidou Keïta is one of the portal figures in African photography. He was born in 1923 in Bamako, Mali (then part of French Sudan). He started taking photographs in 1945, learning the profession from Mountaga Kouyaté, an intellectual anti-colonialist. In 1947 he opened his own studio where he worked until his retirement in 1977. Seidou Keïta died in November 2001.

Seidou Keïta’s photographs are characterized by a sense of harmony both in the way they are composed and in the expression of the people portrayed. In recent years Seidou Keïta has achieved international recognition with major exhibitions in Paris and elsewhere as well as being featured on the cover of Art Forum.

Malick Sidibé (born 1936) is also from Mali. During the photo festival in Bamako I visited his studio where he has worked since 1962. Besides his portraits he has photographed life in the city of Bamako: the young people’s parties, street scenes, the beaches.

Samuel Fosso (born 1962) comes from a small village in Cameroon but at an early age he moved to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. There he opened his own studio at the age of thirteen. He is best known for his self-portraits with playful, narcissistic role-playing.

There is a further reason for showing these photographs: the images that in Europe we see of Africa are almost always pictures of war and famine. Such images now form most people’s “picture” of Africa. But this is, of course, a highly simplified and stereotype picture which ultimately gives the impression that war and famine are somehow “natural” on the continent of Africa. There is a serious risk that Swedish media-consumers conclude that “this is what it has always looked like and this is what it will continue to look like”. This can lead to a sort of fatalism that fails to look for political and social causes. The exhibition does not intend to deny that war and famine exist but seeks to show that there are brilliant photographers and artists and a life beyond the news stories of catastrophes.

The photographs of Seidou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Samuel Fosso are also interesting in the way in which they construct identities and break with photographic conventions.

Text: Magnus af Petersens, Curator Moderna Museet

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