Galerie Nathalie Obadia is delighted to present Malian photographer Seydou Keïta’s second solo show in Paris, after featuring him in Brussels in 2016, thanks to the support of the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection).
From 1948 to 1962, self-taught Seydou Keïta (1921 - 2001) ran Bamako most famous photography studio: “The whole Bamako came to be photographed in my studio: civil servants, businessmen, politicians”. He quickly gained fame in Mali as well as several West African countries thanks to the quality of his prints and the great sophistication of his portraits. Seydou Keïta’s pictures distinguished themselves by their framing, their lighting, the models’ look, the position of their arms and hands, along with the use of varied backgrounds.
Because of the high cost of photographic supply, the artist limited his clients to one single pose, but his great technical mastery would allow him to reveal the beauty of each of them. “Being taken in picture was a big deal. It was about giving the best image of oneself. Often people would take a serious look, but I also think they were intimidated by the camera. It was something new”, he explained.
Posing with their family, their friends, their partner or alone, the models were enhanced on decorative-pattern cloths backgrounds, standing next to bikes or cars, wearing outfits and costumes lent by the studio for the occasion. They would even wear various accessories especially for the shooting (hats, jewels, watches, pens or even radio stations).
Besides, in Seydou Keïta’s studio, people could dress in European fashion and emancipate from traditions: a prime opportunity for Malians in search of modernity during the decolonization. These various accessories mostly symbolized the desire to reach a certain social status or enjoy privileges reserved to white people. These contrasted silver print portraits with elaborated compositions and intense gazes provide a unique testimony of the Malian society of the time.
Seydou Keïta closed his studio in 1962, to become an official photographer of the Malian government. The artist retired in 1977. It was only in 1991 that collector Jean Pigozzi and exhibition curator André Magnin discovered his unsigned pictures in an exhibition of the Center for African Art of New York. André Magnin then decided to look for the unknown author of these shots. Thanks to artist Malick Sibidé, he managed to find Seydou Keïta and meet him. In 1994, the artist enjoyed his first retrospective show in Europe at the Fondation Cartier.