Sidibé’s baby pictures are particularly winning. With their chubby legs, diapers, and miniature wardrobes, the subjects offer gazes both innocent and confused; the most authentic returned gazes that Sidibé’s camera captures. The kids all sit in chairs draped with patterned fabrics. Bamako’s youngest citizens reign on tiny thrones that convey tradition, craft, and local culture.
The studio portraits of adults, meanwhile, are often theatrical. A man in a wide stance holds pistols in both hands, aimed at the viewer. Two women stand with their backs to the camera, reading a manuscript. A woman in a burka sits behind a tray of cups and a samovar. There’s a often a sense of confidence, self-determination, and play.
Sidibé died in 2016. The next year, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art hosted a major exhibition of more than 250 of his photographs. The artist’s international fame may have reached its apotheosis when, later that year, Beyoncé hosted a baby shower inspired by his aesthetic. A picture from her party features the pop star in a patterned skirt, dancing with Jay-Z. Dressed in all white, he wears a necklace with a black pendant in the shape of the African continent. Sidibé’s spirit of improvisation, liberation, and pan-African exuberance lives on, far beyond the confines of any gallery or national border.