Malian photographer Malick Sidibé died yesterday at 80, leaving behind a treasure trove of images that have inspired fellow artists, and popular culture at large, since the late 1950s. Known affectionately by the nickname “Eye of Bamako,” Sidibé captured young Malians writhing blissfully to rock music or posing triumphantly with their most cherished possessions (cassette players, Ray Charles records, motorcycles, and sunglasses that put today’s Prada equivalents to shame). His images exude not only a youthful spirit, but also the unbridled exuberance of Malians after receiving their independence from France in 1960. “They’re an incredible document of post-colonial Mali in the moment when the French had left, but some remnants of that colonial presence—like James Brown, for example—remained,” explains Michael Famighetti, editor of Aperture Magazine, who visited Sidibé’s studio in 2011. “He captured the music, energy, and vitality of a stylish, exuberant youth culture at that time.”
In 2007, Sidibé was awarded the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement, and this month he unveiled some of his earliest photographs for the first time at Jack Shainman’s Chelsea gallery. Until yesterday, he still lived—by choice—in a one-room home in his native Bamako that doubled as his studio and archive. Here, we pay tribute to Sidibé’s groundbreaking work, which has inspired contemporary artists from Mickalene Thomas to Hassan Hajjaj, through some of his most iconic images.