Paper – November 26th

November 26th, 2007










“You Look Beautiful Like That”: Malick Sidibé and the 2007 Venice Biennale








Jennifer Davis

Advisor: Dr. Marjorie Och

Fall 2007 Individual Study

                                                        November 19, 2007
            When do you feel most beautiful?  Is it just after a stylish new haircut, or a shopping spree?  Maybe it is when you are with loved ones celebrating milestones or simply relaxing at the beach.  Malick Sidibé is an African photographer who seeks to capture these moments for his clients in post-colonial Mali.  Sidibé received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2007 Venice Biennale honoring his accomplishments in photography from the 1950s to the present day.  In my individual study, I am examining multiple aspects of Sidibé’s life work including the concept of the individual in his photographs and the influence of the West; I am studying these ideas in four periods of his work including his on-the-scene photography at local parties in the 1960s, his studio portraiture from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a series of photographs that show the backs of his subjects, and finally, the studio photographs taken for a Bamako contest entitled “Africa sings against AIDS” in 2005 (l’Afrique chante contre le SIDA) which are on display at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

            In examining his work, I am interested in highlighting several themes, namely that no matter what the subject or situation, Sidibé manages to capture the essence of joy.  Scholar Simon Njami notes that “His leitmotif is ‘independence’ and his photographs capture the moments of happiness and freedom following the independence of Africa….His work is a living testimony to an epoch in which Africans believed that everything was possible.”[1]  With revolutions such as the equal rights movement and other cultural paradigms shifting, Sidibé captured this optimistic approach to life with his camera.

            Malick Sidibé was born in Soloba, French Sudan (present – day Mali) in 1936.  As one of seventeen children of a peasant family, Sidibé had slim chances of a formal education beyond the farm.  Fortunately for Sidibé, his father decided Malick would go to a “white school”[2] at Yanfolila, a village located more than 40 kilometers from his home in Soloba.  While at school, one of Malick’s teachers noticed his gift of drawing and encouraged him to further his education in Bamako, Mali’s capital, after graduation.  Once in Bamako in 1952, Sidibé went to study at the House of the Sudanese Artists, present day National Institute of Arts in Bamako.  When asked by scholar André Magnin in a 2003 interview what has made Malick Sidibé a great photographer, Sidibé replied “I think that it is my father’s love.”[3]  Sidibé clearly demonstrates his passion for capturing the love surrounding him with his photographs of Malian youths of Bamako, and the surrounding areas. 

            One knows that passion is important to Sidibé because when asked by Magnin what is lacking in contemporary African artists’ work, the artist replies: “There is [no] passion.”[4]  For Sidibé, without a dedication to the country and subject matter, contemporary art loses focus and the viewer cannot feel the connection between the artist and subject as strongly as one can when the artist is a part of the culture.  This passion is apparent in the photographs taken when invited to parties and gatherings where he photographed the subjects up close and personal, often in the middle of the dance floor, as can be seen in Dancing the Twist (1963, fig. 1).  In this photograph, a couple faces each other with their bodies open to the camera and their arms in motion with the rest of their bodies.  They both look pleased to see the camera, but also as though Sidibé found them in a side room of the party because their movements are authentic in their spontaneity.  

Sidibé trained as a jeweler at the House of the Sudanese Artists and finished his schooling in 1955.  French photographer Gérard Guillat came to the school looking for an assistant to design the sets for his portrait studio in Bamako and noticed Sidibé’s skill for design and drawing.    Guillat eventually hired Sidibé as an apprentice and the budding photographer went on to document the post-colonial youth of West Africa in and around Bamako.  His first reportage was in 1957 where Sidibé discovered he preferred the movement and vibrancy of Malians at play to the rigidity of upper-class Europeans who frequented Guillat’s studio. In an interview with Michelle Lamunière, Sidibé comments on how Africans came to embrace photography.  He remarks that “It wasn’t the love of the camera that first drew Africans to photography, it was the promise of financial gain and respectable employment.  But that first taste turned into a genuine hunger, and a real passion for the art of photography was born.”[5]  Although Sidibé generalizes here about the motives of other Africans and the field of photography, he states that “For me, photography has always been about the joy and the love of the work.”[6]  This quote resonates in his photography which captures people at their best.

Malick met Seydou Keïta, one of the original leading studio portrait artists in Bougouni, a city outside of Timbuktu in northeastern Mali, at Keïta’s wedding.  Keïta’s photographs depict Malians at their best and with objects that make them appear wealthy or intellectual such as in Keïta’s an untitled portrait (1959, fig. 2).  In the photograph, a man sits in front of a spotted background wearing a white blazer with a pen in the breast pocket and large glasses and holding a single rose as though presenting it to the viewer.  Keïta remarks that “[the client] put the glasses on that day to look more elegant.”[7]  While Keïta and Sidibé both worked as studio portrait artists, Sidibé’s interest in movement and the dynamics of the Malian youth in the 1960s led him, and his camera, outdoors where he developed a style alongside that of the newly independent Malians. 

In an interview with Magnin, Seydou Keïta enlightens the reader to Malian traditions of speech when he says “In Bamako, we say ‘i ka nyé tan” which in English means ‘you look well’, but in fact it means ‘you look beautiful like that’….”[8]  This simple, yet powerful phrase mirrors the essence of Sidibé’s photographs where the subjects are forever memorialized as joyful parts of the Malian culture in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.  Malick Sidibé comments on his aspirations saying that he “enjoyed catching their [the Malian youth’s] vitality and joie de vivre.”[9]  This vibrancy reads so easily in his photographs where his subjects always look beautiful, though sometimes in different meanings of the word; that is to say, formal beauty of friends laughing and eating together as in Christmas Eve feast (1962, fig. 3), where two friends celebrate over a table full of empty beer bottles, and the more subjective beauty of friendship which emanates in shots of companions at the river Niger, such as in A Party on the Road (1973, fig. 4), where friends pose in bathing suits and cover-ups and even hold a record.

Olu Oguibe, an art historian, critic and international curator, writes about the photograph and the imagined self in an article seeking to understand contemporary photography in Africa.  He notes the crucial aspect of the individual developing him or herself through photography and what it meant to studio portraiture when he remarks:


This ritual of self-imagining would become the singular, most important      sustaining framework for photography in Africa, especially studio photography,          fuelling the practice and careers of innumerable, great studio masters….  Even          non-sedentary, urban practitioners like Malick Sidibé presented their subjects with             opportunities to photograph and freeze their likeness in a particular, preferred         state of their own design, which became the generic, perennial register of their             identity.  Through photography the individual could now intervene in the natural, cosmic process to ensure his own longevity.  He was enabled to impinge on the             territories of divine exclusivity to undermine and reconfigure the conditions of his             or her mortality.[10]



Oguibe recognizes the goal of the subject’s costume, poses and setting and what Sidibé’s studio portraiture subconsciously meant to his clients.

            Scholar Michelle Lamunière also comments on the works of Keïta and Sidibé when she remarks that “The portraits of Keïta and Sidibé are graphically stunning and psychologically engaging.”[11]  Sidibé’s ability to connect with the subject (and thus the viewer) most effectively communicates his goal – to capture the joy in everyday life and special occasions.  Sidibé comments on the purpose of photography and notes that “The camera functions like a mirror.  It proves one’s existence, or at least part of one’s existence.”[12]  This quote underlines the importance of self-fashioning to Sidibé’s subjects and the desire to portray to others their inner emotions through external material possessions. 

            In the Western tradition, clients want to show their health and wealth to their family and friends as well as future generations. One can see this realized in portraits dating as far back as the fifteenth century in paintings such as the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434, fig. 5).  In the portrait, a couple lavishly dressed in fur and fine jewelry turn slightly towards one another.  The man wears a large black hat which indicates his high social status as does the woman’s intricate head covering.  A similar tradition exists in African art as can be seen in the Diviner’s Figures: Couple (19th, 20th c., fig. 6) where the man’s hairpiece and the woman’s intricate hairstyle demonstrate their rank in their society as healers and problem solvers.  Sidibé brings this into the 20th century with his photograph Man with His Two Wives (1979, fig. 7), Sidibé poses the husband in the center of the photograph, a cigarette dangling from his lips, in between his two wives who wear matching outfits and stand with one hand on their husband’s shoulder.  All wear large wrist-watches and they pose so the viewer can better see their shining accessories.  The complex patterns on their headdresses and dresses show their skill in dress making, or their ability to hire someone else to fashion a complicated costume.  While the Arnolfini couple was surely in the upper echelon of the social strata, their accessories were embellished and played up in the portrait, just as this husband with his two wives by Sidibé.  While it may be tempting to interpret Sidibé’s photos as portraying subjects attached to Western objects and thus demonstrating a desire to be in the West, Lamunière points out that “[Their] attraction to Western fashion does not reflect a longing to be Western, however, but rather a wish to be associated with contemporary trends and fashions.”[13]  The fashion of the ‘70s in the United States is interesting enough to look at in the context of our own culture, but when seen in the context of an entirely different culture, such as Mali’s, the outfits appear even more outrageous, as can be seen in Very Good Friends in the Same Outfit, (1972, fig. 8).  In the photograph six men stand in front of a table, five of them in identical polyester leisure suits with contrasting zig-zag pattern shirts and patchwork pants with a fishnet pattern.  One of the men holds his fingers in a peace sign by his head as his friends fuss with their hair.  This image reinforces the idea that people outside America see our country in a microcosm of what they learn from fashion magazines and rock stars, which is not indicative of our country as a whole.  Sidibé’s clients, especially in the studio, demonstrate this dual desire – to be associated with the West while simultaneously identifying themselves with their own cultures.  The clients meld the two traditions with accessories and material possessions from both traditions.   

Lamunière comments on this dynamic of the studio portrait and notes that “Costume and accessories provide extrinsic details that assist in the construction of images reflecting the social roles of sitters and emphasizing the subjects’ beauty, wealth, cosmopolitanism, and modernity….  they are used in everyday communication to signal social standing…, as well as an individual identity.”[14]  The clients went to see Sidibé after getting new hairstyles or purchasing new clothes as can be seen in Portrait (1969, fig. 9) where a woman lies on her stomach and rests on her elbows.  The client is positioned to show the maximum amount of cloth as well as her ring finger where she perhaps announces to the viewer her recent engagement.  These outer expressions of inner feelings demonstrate the ability of stylized appearance to express identity. 

In post-colonial Malian society, the capacity to express oneself freely is crucial to the development of the newly independent state.  Mali gained its independence in 1960 and Modobo Keita served as president until 1968 when he was overthrown in a bloodless coup-d’etat.[15]  Interestingly enough, Sidibé’s photographs ignore this side of Mali – even though these political crises were contemporary to his photography.  Scholar Thomas Mießgang comments on what Sidibé did (and continues to do) for African photography and helps the viewer understand what Sidibé’s photographs mean in relation to other African photographers of his time when he notes that  “Sidibé…was a representative of the transition to freer and more spontaneous forms of photography.”[16]  This embracing of freedom and spontaneity can be clearly noted in photographs of Sidibé’s such as Group of Friends Partying (1969, fig. 10) where seven friends sit on the side of a swimming pool.  Their contact with the camera is like many party shots where someone with a camera appears and says “cheese!” and everyone turns to look at them with a big smile and their signature pose.  These friends all choose their own direction to look and their gazes act as directors for the viewer to guide him or her towards one of the other sitters or out of the frame itself.  The concept of capturing what is outside the frame of the camera is a common theme with Sidibé whose studio portraits and on-the-scene photography leave the viewer wondering not only what is happening in the frame of the photograph, but also, what is beyond.

Simon Njami discusses in Flash Afrique, a catalogue from an exhibit in Vienna in 2001 that explores photography from West Africa, the traditions of the West and Africa in relation to buildings and urban development.  He remarks on the idea of the outside when he writes about Africa and the West in the context of the building.  Philip Kwame Apagya, a contemporary Malian photographer, challenges the role of the West in Africa and the building with images such as Booming Internet (2000, fig. 11) where a woman and a man sit and stand respectively in a created work environment painted onto a sheet.  The man wears a sports coat and a clashing pair of checkered chef’s pants while the woman seems to wear a muumuu and black heels.  The image demonstrates to the viewer how the Malian society perceives the Western working space.  In an interview with Tobias Wendl published in Flash Afrique, Apagya responds to Wendl’s notation that some critics find Apagya’s work “non-authentic” because there is nothing “genuinely African” in his photographs.  Apagya notes that he has “been accused of glorifying the consumer society, of encouraging consumer fetishism and of kicking our traditional African values and cultural heritage.”[17]  This could be said of Sidibé’s photographs as well, although certainly to a lesser degree than the color images of Apagya such as Booming Internet and Francis in Manhattan (1996, fig. 12) which depicts a man beaming in front of a painted backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.  The man holds his left arm against the canvas and with his right hand, points at himself with his thumb, as though to say “This is me in the city.” 

Western traditions and African cultures are obviously very different and one aspect (of many) that is markedly singular to the African culture is the concept of what is acceptable to show on the outside in contrast to the Western tradition of hiding things behind closed doors.  Njami remarks that:


We [the West] hide things in buildings that we don’t want others to see.  We hide             our riches in safes and banks, we hide our old people in old age homes, we hide          the mentally ill in madhouses, we hide behind doors to dance, drink or eat – as if     it were morally reprehensible to show our humanity, or maybe ‘animality’ would be a better word.  Africa doesn’t have this tradition of hiding – even if it has         regrettably begun to develop in this direction.[18] 



Photographers such as Bouna Medoune Seye, a Senegalese photographer, show through their photographs from series such as The Sidewalks of Dakar (early ‘90s, fig. 13) “[that] the mentally ill…are an integral part of the cities.”[19]  It is interesting to contrast Seye’s subjects with those of Sidibé to demonstrate the marked contrast in how these two African men choose to memorialize the African culture.

            In Sidibé’s photographs, the African prerogative of openness to the outside is visible not only in Sidibé’s photographs of youths outdoors, but also in his studio photography such as in Sidibé’s Friends of the Spanish (1968, fig. 14).  In the photograph, four friends pose in gaudy outfits, one with a large sombrero perched atop his head.  Two of the friends stand behind two who are sitting.  One of the friends on the floor holds a teapot and looks as though he is inviting one other person to tea, since there is only one cup on the tray.  Sidibé deliberately frames the awkwardness of the setting with a black backdrop that is framed on each side by bare concrete walls.  The subjects sit on a patterned textile that ends before the frame of the camera and Sidibé allows the bare concrete floor to once again peek out.  Sidibé constructs a background and the viewer’s eyes are lead somewhere else with its unfinished edge or folding of fabric.  This indicates to the viewer the artificiality of the setting and makes the viewer aware that Sidibé is interested in what is beyond. 

            In his photographs at the 2007 Venice Biennale, the subjects stand in front of non-contiguous backdrops.  The backdrops either end before the frame and meet another curtain such as in one where a man holds a little girl (2005, fig. 15), or are comprised of a blank wall that meets another curtain as can be seen in one of the photographs where a man stands, hands on hips, on a checkered floor with a solid back drop (2005, fig. 16).  The backdrops and settings of Sidibé’s photographs are foreign to a Western viewer who is accustomed to a more rigid and closed background.  Lamunière remarks on this aspect of his photography, and that of Seydou Keita’s and notes that “While the backdrop creates the illusion of a studio, [the] foreground points out the artificiality of the constructed environment.”[20] The viewer recognizes the falsity of the space in which the subjects are posing as well as Sidibé’s desire for the shot to look open to what is outside of the frame. 

When looking at art created for a specific culture, it is important to consider the context in which the work was made to know for whom the art was intended.  In an interview with Njami about the contemporary appreciation of his work outside of Africa, Sidibé comments on the direction of his photography in Africa (and that of Seydou Keïta’s) by noting that:


Since the 1960s, and in some cases since the 1940s, we have simply            concentrated on recording our own African reality without giving a thought

to the possibility of the photos being seen outside of Africa….pictures offer           instant communication because their message is direct.[21]




What is interesting to note here is Sidibé’s bristling at the idea of catering to Western demands in his work.  While the artist claims “I knew nothing whatsoever of foreign photography.  We had no source of information, there were no magazines or books like that here.  What we knew of Europe we knew from the cinema,”[22]  his photographs tell a different story.  Throughout his oeuvre, young dancers pose with records of the 60s such as James Brown which can be seen in James Brown Fan (1970, fig. 17) where a young woman poses with a James Brown record at a party, and a complex dynamic shines through.  Although the artist denies a connection to the West in his photographic style, his work undeniably draws from the 1960s and 1970s American and European cultures with works such as Young Man with Bell Bottoms, Bag and Watch (1977, fig 18).  In this studio portrait, a tall, thin, young man in all black stands in sharp contrast to a vertically striped backdrop.  He challenges the viewer with his gaze which, coupled with the level of the camera, puts the observer below the subject. Lamunière remarks that “The tastes and aspirations of consumers were frequently shaped by Western ideas and goods introduced after the colonial era.”[23]  The subject’s angled contrapposto pose and raised left hand in the gesture of black power clearly demonstrate the influence of Western ideas such as the Black Power movement of the 1960s. 

Gunilla Krane, director of the Hasselblad Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, writes in the foreword to a monograph on the artist and his portrait photographs that “Malick Sidibé’s photographs have to be seen in relation to African culture and its traditions, and to the changes that took place in Africa during the 1950s and 60s, when western culture was coming in and beginning to influence African society.”[24]  Simon Njami criticizes the development of the city in Africa and its affect on the culture.  But Sidibé captures the essence of Malian youth in spite of their living “[in a] world where the future has no value and only the present counts.”[25]  This pessimistic statement reminds viewers of Sidibé’s work of the realities and oppositions present in post-colonial Africa where the desire to move beyond the grasp of the colonizer is strong, though how to do this is unclear.  The problem for the viewer is how to view the photographs.  Do we focus on what the artist sees in his work – a representation of African culture – or do we focus on the Western influences and traces of the culture found in the works? 

            Although some of the sitters’ expressions indicate their fear of the camera such as in The Two Friends (1975, fig. 19) where one of the men sits and stares at the camera as though he is unable to relax and the others poses with a bouquet of artificial flowers, most of Sidibé’s subjects smile proudly or exude a clear sense of pride as can be seen in The Photographer Photographed (1971, fig. 20).  Sidibé’s ability to draw out shy smiles as in With My Little Brother (1984, fig. 21) and confident poses as in Yokoru (a name given to costumed embodiments of the African culture), (1970, fig. 22) record for the viewer a dynamic of African cultures unseen in images of war and devastation.  Laumunière comments on the visual perception of Africa by the West and notes that “Even for Western audiences today, ‘Africa’ often conjures up the National Geographic model of the noble savage, or images of famine and ethnic strife.  In contrast, Keïta and Sidibé collaborated with their subjects to produce images that had significance within their own society.”[26]  This quote relates back to the idea that Sidibé created images to be seen in Africa and were not intended to be seen outside the continent.    

What draws one to Sidibé’s work is the clarity of the message which is that the subjects want to look beautiful.  This directness is why Sidibé’s photography is a clear form of articulating emotion. Sidibé’s photographs calm the eye and allow one to focus on the aesthetics of the picture without the complexities of political undertones or direct propaganda. 

The simplicity of his work resonates with Mießgang who comments on the familiarity of his photographs and notes that:


Sidibé is a chronicler of the present in a universalistic sense: his protagonists are     mostly dressed in the Western fashions of the 1960s and 1970s; ‘Party Animals’               and ‘Fashion Victims’, representatives of the global youth culture who happen to   be in Africa, or so it seems.  Many of these works thus have more in common             with the iconography of the worldwide teenage rebellion….  Take away the           captions and they could have been shot in Harlem or the Bronx.[27]



Although Sidibé perhaps shares different sentiments about the unrestricted (regarding location) quality of his works due to his own strong ties to the singularity of the African culture (Sidibé continually refutes a stylistic connection to the West), one can see why his photographs could be seen as a product of the West, especially in images such as James Brown Fans (fig. 23) where two girls stand in lunge positions holding a James Brown record. 

In an essay connecting James Brown and his impact on Malick Sidibé, scholar and friend of the artist Manthia Diawara comments on the influence of the West on Sidibé’s work when he states:


By following the youth of Bamako, who were wearing flowered shirts made by     famous designers – because they saw their idols wearing them in magazine photos         – Sidibé was getting his eye trained by great photographers.  And by following      the copy of the copy, he was internalizing the history of photography without             knowing it.[28] 



Although Sidibé refutes a direct stylistic connection to the West, it is understood through his work that he was a student of the West and learned from its photographers and the social and political movements of the time period. 

The freshness of youth captured in Sidibé’s photographs such as Look At Me! (1962, fig. 24) enlighten us not only to the pastimes of the jeunesse of Mali in the 1960s and 1970s, but also to Sidibé’s own personal goals.  In the photograph a man leans back as if there was a limbo bar above his chest while looking towards the camera.  People around him dance as though only he is aware there is a camera present capturing his innovative, or emulated from the West, dance move.  Sidibé comments on what he was interested in capturing with these photos in an interview with Njami when he states “I was always attracted by movement and liked the spirit of these young people who had discovered European music.”[29]  This quote demonstrates that it was not Sidibé’s choice to capture the influence of the West on the African youth, but merely a byproduct of the clients’ discovery of the West. 

There appear to be contradictory statements concerning the West and its influence on Sidibé’s photography.  When asked about Africa’s present-day young photographers, Sidibé responds, essentially, that he is not impressed with what is being produced and he wishes they would stay true to their heritage and Africa.[30]  This response begs the question of what heritage is to a generation who grew up in a time of revolution and in a post-colonial era. Sidibé’s photographs are evidence that “[the youth of 1960s Mali] were mimicking the culture of the colonizer, which shut the door to authentic self – actualization.”[31]  Western influences including music and magazines were omni-present and embraced by a generation bucking a socialist and constrictive government led by post-colonial African leaders who were intent on bringing back traditional African values to a generation born and raised in a colonized and Western influenced culture.  

While the studio portrait allows for the individual to express what he or she is feeling, and what they want others to perceive them as feeling, the portrait also perpetuates the influence of the West on Africa.  Mießgang writes about the psychology behind the poses in Sidibé’s studio portraiture in relation to the West when he notes that:


            By showing his personal idiosyncrasies, the individual became more distinctive      and gained a voice for himself in the prison of Western standards.  The erosion of certainties, even uncomfortable ones, also gives rise to a desire to undermine the          chains of command established through colonial domination, to dismantle production units assembled for their economic efficiency and to replace them by          new groupings.  The studio portraits thus provide a dialectic signification of the           protest of the individual and the need for the reorganisation of society.[32] 



The style of clothes introduced in the 1960s and 1970s in the West and subsequently in Africa, and the manner in which clients chose to pose themselves in the candid shots at celebrations in Mali demonstrate this influence.  Although Sidibé expertly posed his subjects, he only controlled what the client suggested as a theme.  His strong sense of African heritage that we know about through his interviews with Western scholars indicates to the viewer he would not have chosen to create a scene that effectively portrays the West because he had no desire to be a student of the West and its traditions. In a recent phone interview with Claude Simard, one of the directors of the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City which represents a variety of African and non-African artists, I asked whether or not the subjects chose the poses such as the one in Young Man with Bell Bottoms, Bag and Watch (1977, fig 18), or if it was at Sidibé’s suggestion.  Simard responded that “They chose the clothing and the poses.”[33]  This indicates to the viewer the autonomy of the subject to a degree and their decision to choose poses demonstrating the influence of the West.     

Lamunière writes about the confluence of the West and Africa in Sidibé’s images and that “[the] combination of traditionally African and Western objects…appears in the portraits of Keïta and Sidibé, but there it was the clients’ choice to have themselves photographed with objects identified with the West as a means of expressing their urbanity and enthusiasm for modern life.”[34]  This is an example of how we learn indirectly and the ability of Sidibé’s clients to influence the themes of his photography.

In an interview with Magnin, the curator asks Sidibé why African art is different and if one can speak of “African photography.”  Sidibé replies that “Art from Africa is admired because it has life, it has truth, it has purity.”[35]  The artist also feels that “the people of Mali will rediscover themselves in [his] photographs.”[36]  Certainly in his own work, Sidibé and others can find this life, truth and purity.  The stark quality of his portraits reveals the desire of the sitters to portray their status in society and allow the viewer to hone in on their essence without the distraction of loud accessories and backdrops.  However the artist is not as quick to say he can find these same qualities in the works of contemporary African artists.  This demonstrates how Sidibé’s work and life speak to contradictions.  Seydou Keïta states in an interview with Magnin that he has “never met any foreign photographers, nor seen their photos.  No information ever reached us [in the 1960s.]  French or American books were very rare.”[37]  Sidibé makes a similar statement refuting the influence of the West.  Another example of his living contradiction comes from scholar Simon Njami who notes that “Malick Sidibé disproves the commonly held view in the West that African photography is confined to portrait and studio work,”[38] when it is clear a large portion of his oeuvre is relegated to the studio.

Diawara comments on what Sidibé recorded in his photographs and notes that “In Sidibé’s photographs, one can see the turbulence of youth and the generational conflict that characterized the 1960s.”[39]  In post-colonial Africa, “the aim was to break free from traditional stereotypes…that emphasised the reduced and domesticated status [of Malians].”[40]  This aversion to the past and tradition, and embracement of modernity is reflected in both Sidibé’s portrait photography and his in-the-street work where he associated directly with young Malians.  Young viewers saw studio portraiture as an elitist practice reserved for a bourgeoisie that could not relate to their lifestyles.  They wanted to be photographed in action, as were their Western idols who were captured on album and magazine covers.  An example of this imitation can be seen in Three Fulani Shepherds (1976, fig 25).  In the photograph, three young men stand in traditional garb but each carry or wear a “Western” accoutrement such as a leather satchel and briefcase and a boom box.  They pose awkwardly and seem to stare down Sidibé and the viewer. 

The limitation of studio portraiture where the subjects were generally photographed in a more formal (than casual) arrangement conflicted with the ideals of many Malian youths. Colonialism encouraged a more formal style of photography with Western accessories in the studio because the practice was fueled by the desire of visiting Europeans and the elite Bamakois to be documented with their symbols of wealth and status.  Images such as Picnic at the Chaussée (1972, fig. 26) depicts young Malians posing with their own symbols of wealth – records and friends.  In this photograph, three friends pose together, one standing on the raised stomach of another and at left a friend crouching down to show a record.   Malick bucked tradition by following the youth to their parties and gatherings at the Niger river in order to demonstrate to himself and others the vitality existing in the sub-culture of Mali, one of life and laughter over which the government and its regulations had no control. 

            The period in which Sidibé began to photograph the fresh spirit of the Malian youth is characterized by a time of individualism and greater exposure to Western influences such as the radio and cinema.  Mießgang also reminds the viewer that Sidibé photographed “[at] a time in which African states were questioning the legitimacy of colonialism and demanding independence.”[41]  This questioning of authority and continuing embracement of the power of family and friends resonates in Sidibé’s photographs which capture Malians at their most joyous occasions and moments.

The photographs from the local parties capture the movement and excitement of the moment and the spirit of the subjects without posing.  Sidibé’s photographs come to life for the viewer because he captures intimate moments among friends which everyone can relate to because of their familiarity.  For example, in Christmas Eve (1963, fig. 27) one of Sidibé’s most well – known works, the viewer can sense the intimacy between the dancers because of the expression on their faces and the way their bodies fill the composition naturally.  What sets apart Sidibé’s photographs is the rapport he built with his subjects.  The ability to connect with other people on higher levels is crucial to anyone seeking to have an enriching work experience and to perform their tasks effectively.  Sidibé recognizes this and notes that “You have to remember a good photographer is also a social animal.  Do good work, and people love you.”[42]  He speaks of the Christmas Eve picture more than 40 years after it was taken with a tender familiarity reserved for conversations about close loved ones when in actuality, the photo was a commissioned job.  Sidibé recalls the portrait as a capturing of:


…a moment of innocence.  I knew that they [the subjects] were brother and           sister.  It was at their home, the boy was learning to dance.  They were looking at             each other; it is an instant full of intimacy and it emits and infinite tenderness.[43]




This attention to detail and appreciation of emotions resonates with the viewer as we recall our own experiences learning from a close family member or friend and the joy shared at cultivating a pastime together. 

            Sidibé continues to capture intimate moments while considerably altering his, and thus the viewer’s perspective.  One of Sidibé’s more recent artistic ventures is entitled “View from the Rear” and involves inviting people to his studio to photograph them from behind.  When questioned by Magnin why he is interested in the backsides of his subjects, Sidibé replies that “Like me you have undoubtedly noticed that, in the street, the men walk behind their women.  They see them from the back, then they pass them and turn to look at them from in front.  Only the photograph can tell you if you look nice from behind.”[44]  In one example, (2002, fig. 28) a woman rests on a pillow wearing only a bra and long skirt.  Sidibé sets the lighting so that the folds of her skin are highlighted, thus creating a dark contrast with the S curve of her spine.  In another image (2001, fig. 29), a woman of similar size wears only a bra and a half slip with lace on the edge.  Both of the bras are taught on the woman’s skin and the tags stick out in the same way under the clasp of the bra.  The bottom of the backdrop is marked by a rolled up carpet which is unrolled enough to cover the frame of the shot and the rough edges of which contrast with the gentle rolls of skin and soft fabric of the slip.  While Sidibé’s purpose in all of his works has been to document Mali and to make people look beautiful, this set of works is different from those of the ‘60s and ‘70s because he begins consciously to make a statement about Mali and its society whereas before he was simply photographing what was happening at the moment.

            The last collection of works I am examining are the photographs at the 2007 Venice Biennale.  Sidibé’s photographs at the Biennale depict 13 contestants in a Malian national contest and, as his series “View from Behind,” make a statement about Mali in the present tense.  The contest sought original works of music that promoted the awareness of the AIDS epidemic and its fatal consequences.  When looking at the subjects, there is no trace of the melancholy typically associated with the disease that takes the lives of countless Africans per year.  Rather, we are confronted with hopeful, yet concurrently realistic, individuals ready for change in their own country.   

In one of the photographs, (2005, fig. 30) a woman stands with the side of her body facing the viewer and her hands poised to move with the rest of her body as she begins to dance.  We only know by reading the catalogue entry that this woman composed a work of music for a contest and has thus been photographed.  While other works of art necessitate titles and descriptions, Sidibé’s works are merely enhanced by catalogue entries.  Their simplicity and rich compositions are a relief relative to the overwhelmingly large photographs and video throughout the rest of the Biennale.        

            In 1962, Sidibé stepped away from the documentation of the on-the-scene rock n’ roll parties, though he seems to return to it in his studio portraits for the 2005 Bamako contest where the subjects seem to once again emulate musicians on magazine covers with their poses. This could be due in part to the growing distance in age between himself and his subjects and a difficulty in relating to his subjects as the time grew nearer to the revolution of 1968 and youths around the world became restless and dissatisfied with the governments of their countries and world politics.  He opened “Studio Malick” in Bamako, Mali (where he remains today) and began to focus on studio portraiture, as had his predecessors Gerard Guillat and Seydou Keïta, as well as camera repair.   

            Magnin, a leading scholar on contemporary African art, stumbled upon Malick Sidibé in the early 1990s as he sought out Seydou Keïta who exhibited in Susan Vogel’s 1991 exhibit: Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art which Magnin had seen in New York City.[45]  Magnin wanted to know more about Keïta’s work which led him to Bamako, Mali, Keïta’s hometown.  A taxi driver directed Magnin to Sidibé’s studio, the only photographer he knew in the city, who then led the curator to Keïta.  Magnin began to show and critique the work of these two artists which catapulted their careers into the international art scene in the early 1990s. 

            The launching of his career has led to the receipt of numerous prestigious photography awards including the Hasselblad Foundation International Award for 2003 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2007 Venice Biennale.  Robert Storr, curator of the 2007 Venice Biennale, invited Malick Sidibé to exhibit his works.  At the opening of the exhibition in early June, Sidibé received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, honoring him and his contribution to contemporary art.  This award is given to the best in show and this year demonstrates the changing attitudes towards non-Western art in the contemporary art world.  Usually, the representation of West and Sub-Saharan Africa at international art exhibitions is sparse, and an artist from these regions receiving an award of this stature even more rare.      

I share similar sentiments with Sidibé in relation to our understanding of contemporary art.  Njami prompted Sidibé to comment on the art he has seen in his travels around the world and Sidibé remarks that “When I see some of the reportages today, I have the feeling that the photographers take themselves more seriously than their subjects.  They don’t take photos, but speak about themselves….  It’s like contemporary art: I don’t understand what the people are trying to say.”[46]  While different people are drawn to certain types of art for different reasons, Sidibé’s words and work underline the beauty of the simple things in life which everyone can appreciate.

The title of Robert Storr’s exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale: “Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind.  Art in the Present Tense” demonstrates a central theme to the exhibition – that of the sensory.  Sidibé stimulates the viewer not only visually, but also on a deeper intellectual level as we compare the simple beauty of his works with the complex and often disturbing images in other contemporary art showcased at the Biennale.    

            When considering the Venice Biennale, we must ask why look at contemporary art in Venice in the first place?  Modern art museums constantly exhibit international shows; therefore we must question why biennales featuring well-established artists are necessary.  Axel Lapp, a curator and critic living in Berlin, answers this question when he states that what draws people to Venice year after year for the Biennale is

…probably the [Biennale’s] mythical status as the most important and oldest                      recurring art event. Visitors go there because they always did and because it       provides a communal topic and shared experience, comparable to watching a            specific TV programme in times when there were only three channels. The      exhibitions draw their importance from the global attention they receive, turning    them into a point of reference for all and creating a visual standard. It is not that            the shows are better, or that the works are of a higher quality, but participation in      the Biennale still functions as a marker, as an ennobling factor for art and artists–            with direct consequences on their market value.[47]


The Venice Biennale is comforting in its stability in an ever-changing art market because we can look to past exhibits and clearly see how modern art, and its reception, has changed since the last biennale.  It is, as Lapp points out, a marker by which we can gauge the success of modern artists and their reception by international audiences. 

This brings one to another point of concern – the global goal of the Biennale.  Although the Biennale purports to be an international exhibit, and does indeed exhibit over 75 counties with 34 collateral shows, more than one-third of the artists are American or primarily live and work in New York City.[48]  In an attempt to create an exhibition that is truly international, Storr elected to have an African Pavilion.  O’Reilly comments on the success of the African Pavilion in spite of its limitations since “although they [Storr and the curators] commit all sorts of curatorial crimes by jamming 30 artists’ work into the space, the African pavilion had an exuberance that the Arsenale and many of the pavilions in the Giardini lacked….”[49]  While the African “Check List” exhibit, featured at the end of the Arsenale, and Malick Sidibé’s works, displayed in the middle-back of the Arsenale, are packed into a small area, the impact of these African artists is nonetheless felt by all visitors as they trek through the seemingly endless Arsenale. 

Storr speaks generally regarding the exhibit in an interview about the 2007 Venice Biennale with Tim Griffin and states that “the show constitutes a proposition about art.”[50]  One almost feels like looking at the curator and saying “Really?  Isn’t that the purpose of all exhibitions?”  At times it seems that Storr is too careful not only with his choice of artists, but with his responses concerning the Biennale as well.  Storr makes a more specific comment about the exhibit when he expresses a common thread that “correspondences are what interest me as a way of conveying experience to people.”[51]  This response speaks to the exhibit because throughout the Arsenale are works by artists found in the central exhibit. 

After understanding the necessity of the Biennale, we must ask ourselves – why does Robert Storr want us to see Malick Sidibé?  The curator details, in his statement and recommendation for Sidibé’s receipt of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award, that “…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 transformations of African culture in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty – first than Malick Sidibé.”[52]  Storr’s selection of Sidibé as the recipient of this prestigious award is certainly indicative of the reception of African art on an equal footing with Western art today.  In the exhibition catalogue, Storr poses the question: “How can the arts respond to the crises in the world and really be effective in the face of wars, famines and plagues?”[53]  Storr goes on to assert that art does carry social responsibility and Sidibé responds to the demand by cataloguing the contestants for the 2005 Bamako contest “Africa Sings Against AIDS.” While his description of what Sidibé did is concise, critic Samson Spanier questions Storr’s statement about Sidibé’s entry to the exhibition when he notes that “Storr’s praise for Sidibé was odd. He noted that the photographer took portraits of people who campaign against the spread of AIDS, but failed to explain what qualities mark out Sidibé’s work–apart from mentioning that…he is an acute observer.”[54]  What seems to distinguish Sidibé’s work from that of other participating artists at the 2007 Venice Biennale is his passion for capturing joy. 

Reviews of the 2007 Venice Biennale have been lukewarm which is to be expected in an ever-changing and seemingly never satisfied art world.  Curator and critic Axel Lapp notes that, “Outside the central exhibition…there is little that stands out.”[55]  Critic Sally O’Reilly writes about the African Pavilion though fails to mention Malick Sidibé, an African artist though not in the Pavilion, a curious omission by all of the reviews I encountered.  Do the critics simply have nothing to say about the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award? Or, is Sidibé’s absence in reviews of the exhibition indicative of the unimpressive quality of his work relative to the African Pavilion and Check List show surrounding his work in the Arsenale?  O’Reilly has more positive comments on the African Pavilion and the Biennale, while recognizing the need for improvement.  She comments that:

Although it [the exhibit] makes little sense as a representation of an entire   continent, the African pavilion has its highlights and low points, like any other         group presentation, but it is through this connective functionality that it most        effectively illustrates the way in which internationalism, with its advantages and             pitfalls, continues to surge.[56]


This demonstrates that maybe, at some point in time, people will be able to look at art and not think about its geographic origin – or perhaps that is a question and resulting answer that factors into our appreciation of a particular work or artist.  Lapp pinpoints the premise of the exhibition as “a detailed analysis of current imagery of conflict, [that] visualizes the omnipresence of violence and contextualizes the images that surround us….”[57] Coupled with an ambiguous title, this summary of the themes present in Storr’s exhibit help the viewer to narrow in on what ties the art and artists together in the central show.  The irony here is how devoid of violence and conflict Sidibé’s images are.  While many of the artists exhibiting in the Biennale demonstrate their discontent with the war in Iraq and other civil wars, Sidibé’s work is the total opposite; instead he chooses to highlight the best parts of our lives – when we are young, with friends and in love.  Although critics write that Storr’s exhibit seeks to “provide visual research into the aesthetics of war…,”[58] Sidibé cleanses the proverbial artistic palette by introducing the power of joy as seen through photography in the 2007 Venice Biennale. 

Art critics will always have something to complain about and the 2007 Venice Biennale is no exception.  However, as Storr himself states, “…the sensual world is not necessarily a beautiful world, and pleasuring the public has never been a requirement of modern art.”[59]  Storr allows the visitors to the 2007 Venice Biennale an escape with Malick Sidibé’s playful and joyful photographs from the shocking reality of the warring world.  His receipt of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award is a worthy award not only for the quality of his photographs, but as a welcome contrast to the harsh realities presented by numerous other artists at the exhibit.  Sidibé inadvertently demonstrates to viewers of his work one of the most basic yet fundamental aspects of life – the open display and expression of emotion.  At the Biennale, Sidibé whispers in a room full of shouting artists so that the viewer is attracted to his photographs to understand why he does not necessitate the pomp and circumstance other contemporary artists demand with their large scale works.  

Lamunière asked Sidibé what his objective is when he takes photographs.  Sidibé responded “I’m mainly interested in capturing joyful moments, joy and pleasure.”[60]  It is this back-to-basics theme present in Sidibé’s photographs that draw me back again and again to see how he has captured this joy and pleasure.  Throughout Sidibé’s oeuvre, the themes of love and joy are captured and Sidibé simultaneously, though inadvertently, comments on Malian history including the influence of the West as well as problems affecting the society such as AIDS.












[1] Flash Afrique, 94. 

[2] Malick Sidibé, Malick Sidibé: Photographs, Hasselbland, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl ; Göteborg, Sweden: Hasselblad Center, 2004, 75.

[3] Hasselblad, 75

[4] Flash Afrique! : Photography from West Africa.  Edited by Gerald Matt, and Thomas Miessgang.  Göttingen : Steidl ; London: Thames & Hudson, 2002, 96. 

[5] Michelle Lamunière, “You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé,” Harvard University Art Museums, 2001, 53.

[6] Lamunière, 54.

[7] Flash Afrique, 68.

[8] Flash Afrique, 68.

[9] Flash Afrique, 96.

[10] Flash Afrique, 14. 

[11] Lamunière, 11.

[12] Lamunière, 54

[13] Lamunière, 36.

[14] Lamunière, 34.

[15] Appendix I.

[16] Flash Afrique, 16. 

[17] Flash Afrique, 45-6.

[18] Flash Afrique, 28.

[19] Flash Afrique, 28.

[20] Lamunière, 33.

[21] Flash Afrique, 95.

[22] André Magnin, African Art Now : Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection, London ; New York : Merrell ; Houston, 2005, 184.

[23] Lamunière, 36. 

[24] Hasselblad, 6.

[25] Flash Afrique, 28.

[26] Lamunière, 13.

[27] Flash Afrique, 19.

[28] Hasselblad, 20.

[29] Flash Afrique, 94.

[30] Flash Afrique, 96

[31] Hasselblad, 11.

[32] Flash Afrique, 21.

[33] Phone interview with Claude Simard, Friday, November 2, 2007.

[34] Lamunière, 19. 

[35] Hasselblad, 76.

[36] Hasselblad, 76.

[37] Flash Afrique, 68.

[38] Flash Afrique,, 94.

[39] Hasselblad, 9.

[40] Flash Afrique, 21.

[41] Flash Afrique, 21.

[42] Lamunière, 57.

[43] Hasselblad, 77

[44] Hasselblad, 80.

[45] African Art Now, 45.

[46] Flash Afrique, 96.

[47] Axel Lapp, “Venice Biennale I: Various venues June 10 to November 21,” Art Monthly 308 (2007): 26.

[48] Marcia E. Vetrocq, “The Venice Biennale, all’americana: while the big curated show (heavy on Americans and on painting) is somewhat streamlined this year, new national pavilions are taking root citywide. Add a multitude of ancillary exhibitions, and you have the 52nd edition of this venerable event–the largest yet,” Art in America 95.8 (2007): 136. 

[49] Sally O’ Reilly, 28.

[50] Tim Griffin, 181. 

[51] Tim Griffin, 185.

[52] Robert Storr, “Malick Sidibé Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at 52nd Venice Biennale: Statement and recommendation by the Director of the 52nd International Art Exhibition, Robert Storr” , accessed  June 20, 2007.

[53] Robert Storr, Malick Sidibé: The 2007 Venice Biennale, 52 International Art Exhibition, Windsor Books: The Boundary, 322.

[54] Samson Spanier, “Venice news: the first African pavilion and shows by small countries make an impact at the Biennale–but at the opening it was the parties that dominated” Apollo 164 no. 545, (2007): 19. 

[55] Axel Lapp, 28. 

[56] Sally O’ Reilly, 30.

[57] Axel Lapp, 26.

[58] Axel Lapp, 28.

[59] Tim Griffin, “Show and Tell,” Artforum International, May 2007: 181.

[60] Lamunière, 54.






































Figure 1.  Malick Sidibé, Dancing the Twist, 1963 (photo: Malick Sidibé, André Magnin, and Boubacar Traoré. Malick Sidibé. Zürich: Scalo, 1998 p. 98). 


Figure 2.  Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1959 (photo: Thomas Miessgang and Barbara Schröder. Flash Afrique! Wien: Kunsthalle Wien, 2002 p.70).


Figure 3.  Malick Sidibé, Christmas Eve feast, 1962 (photo: Malick Sidibé, 1998 p. 87).

Figure 4.  Malick Sidibé, A Party at the Chaussée, 1973 (photo: Malick Sidibé, 1998    p. 66). 

Figure 5.  Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434.  Oil on panel, 32 1/4” x 23 1/2”.  National Gallery, London.      

Figure 6.  Diviner’s Figures: Couple, 19th, 20th c. 

Figure 7.  Malick Sidibé, Man With His Two Wives, 1979 (photo: Malick Sidibé, and Manthia Diawara. Malick Sidibé Photographs. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2004 p. 56).

Figure 8.  Malick Sidibé, Very Good Friends in the Same Outfit, 1972 (photo: Flash Afrique!, 2002 p. 98).


Figure 9.  Malick Sidibé, Portrait, 1969 (photo : Michelle Lamunière, Seydou Keita, and Malick Sidibé. You Look Beautiful Like That The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé. Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001 p. 79). 

Figure 10.  Malick Sidibé, Group of Friends Partying, 1969 (photo: Malick Sidibé, 1998 p. 87). 

Figure 11.  Philip Kwame Apagya, Booming Internet, 2000 (photo: Flash Afrique!, 2002 p. 20).


Figure 12. Philip Kwame Apagya, Francis in Manhattan, 1996 (photo: Flash Afrique!, 2002 p. 49).

Figure 13.  Bouna Medounce Seye, from the series “The Sidewalks of Dakar” (photo: Flash Afrique!, 2002 p. 27).


Figure 14.  Malick Sidibé, Friends of the Spanish, 1968 (photo:


Figure 15.  Malick Sidibé, Untitled, from the series “L’Afrique Chante Contre le SIDA” (“Africa Sings Against AIDS”), 2007.  Gelatin on Silver Print, 12” x 12” (Photograph by the author).



Figure 16.  Malick Sidibé, Untitled, from the series “L’Afrique Chante Contre le SIDA” (“Africa Sings Against AIDS”), 2007.  Gelatin on Silver Print, 12” x 12” (Photograph by the author).

Figure 17.  Malick Sidibé, James Brown Fan, 1970 (photo: Malick Sidibé, 1998 p. 103).


Figure 18.  Malick Sidibé, Young Man with Bell Bottoms, Bag and Watch, 1977



Figure 19.  Malick Sidibé, The Two Friends, 1975 (photo: You Look Beautiful Like That, 2001 p. 72). 


Figure 20.  Malick Sidibé, The Photographer Photographed, 1971. (photo: You Look Beautiful Like That, 2001 p. 89). 


Figure 21.  Malick Sidibé, With My Little Brother, 1984.  Gelatin Silver Print, 50 x 60 cm. Galerie Conrads Duesseldorf.





Figure 22.  Malick Sidibé, Yokoro, 1970.  Gelatin Silver Print, 50 x 60 cm. Galerie Conrads Duesseldorf.


Figure 23.  Malick Sidibé, James Brown Fans, 1965.  Gelatin Silver Print, 40 x 50 cm. Galerie Conrads Duesseldorf.


Figure 24.  Malick Sidibé, Look At Me!, 1962.  Gelatin Silver Print, 50 x 60 cm. Galerie Conrads Duesseldorf.


Figure 25.  Malick Sidibé, Three Fulani Sheperds, 1976.  (photo: Malick Sidibé and Manthia Diawara. Malick Sidibé Photographs. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2004 p. 57).


Figure 26.  Malick Sidibé, Picnic at the Chaussée, 1972 (photo: Malick Sidibé, 1998

p. 63). 

Figure 27.  Malick Sidibé, Christmas Eve, 1963




Figure 28. Malick Sidibé from the series “ View From The Rear”, 2002.  Gelatin silver print 17” x 13” 



Figure 29.  Malick Sidibé, from the series “View From The Rear”, 2001.  Gelatin silver print 17” x 13” (photo: Malick Sidibé Photographs, 2004 p. 97). 





Figure 30.  Malick Sidibé, Untitled, from the series “L’Afrique Chante Contre le SIDA” (“Africa Sings Against AIDS”), 2007.  Gelatin on Silver Print, 12” x 12”. 










Appendix I


Timeline of Malian History since Colonization

19th century – French colonial advance, and Islamic religious wars which lead to creation of theocratic states.

1898 – France completes conquest of Mali, then called French Sudan.

1959 – Mali and Senegal form the Mali Federation, which splits a year later.


1960 – Mali becomes independent with Modibo Keita as president. It becomes a one-party, socialist state and withdraws from the French zone.

1968 – Keita ousted in bloodless coup led by Lieutenant Moussa Traore.

1977 – Protests erupt following Keita’s death in prison.

Moussa Traore: Military ruler’s death sentence was commuted

Ruled from 1968-1991

Toppled and jailed in 1991

Pardoned in 2002

1979 – New constitution provides for elections; Traore re-elected president.

1985 – Mali and Burkina Faso engage in border fighting.

1991 – Traore deposed in coup and replaced by transitional committee.

1992 – Alpha Konare wins multiparty elections to become Mali’s first democratically-elected president.

1995 – Peace agreement with Tuareg tribes leads to return to Mali of thousands of refugees.

1999 – Former President Moussa Traore sentenced to death on corruption charges, but has his sentence commuted to life imprisonment by President Konare.

1999 October – Several people killed in fighting in the north between members of the Kunta tribe and an Arab community over local disputes.

2000 February – Konare appoints former International Monetary Fund official Mande Sidibe Prime Minister of Mali.

Mali has produced some of the superstars of African music


2001 December – Manantali dam in southwest Mali produces its first megawatt of hydro-electricity, 13 years after it was completed.

2002 April – Amadou Toumani Toure elected president by landslide. Poll is marred by allegations of fraud.

2002 September – France says it will cancel 40% of debts owed to it by Mali, amounting to some 80m euros ($79m, £51m).

2002 October – Government resigns, without public explanation. New “government of national unity” is unveiled.

2003 August – Clashes between rival Muslim groups in west kill at least 10 people.

2004 April – Prime Minister Mohamed Ag Amani resigns and is replaced by Ousmane Issoufi Maiga.

2004 September – Agriculture minister says severe locust plague has cut cereal harvest by up to 45%.

2005 June – World Food Programme warns of severe food shortages, the result of drought and locust infestations in 2004.

2006 May – Visiting French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy faces a hostile reception from protesters accusing him of racism over the tough immigration bill he introduced in parliament.

2006 June – The government signs an Algerian-brokered peace deal with Tuareg rebels seeking greater autonomy for their northern desert region. The rebels looted weapons in the town of Kidal in May, raising fears of a new rebellion.

2007 April – President Toure wins a second five-year term in elections.

2007 June – Five journalists and a teacher are convicted for insulting President Toure over a high school essay assignment on the sexual indiscretions of an imaginary head of state.

2007 July – The ruling coalition, Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), strengthens its hold on parliament in elections.

2007 August – Suspected Tuareg rebels abduct government soldiers in separate incidents near the Niger and Algerian borders.














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