The influence of Malian photographers Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta has been widespread since their emergence on the international scene in the 1990s. Contemporary American painters Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas have found the intimate black and white photos by Sidibé and Keïta to be inspirational sources for massive paintings that integrate pattern and decoration, portraiture, and iconography in sumptuous technicolor canvases. All boundaries between the Grand Manner and postmodernism, Africa and America, and painting and photography are exploded by their riveting images. Art history is rewritten, with verve.
A timely exhibition introduces a new artist to the sphere of what we can call the Malian portrait tradition: François Deschamps. The U.S.-based photographer travelled to Mali on a Fulbright in 2010 and immersed himself in the urban and rural matrix that gave rise a compelling post-colonial visual identity. Working in collaboration with Malian artists and craftsmen, Deschamps took a series of stunning color photographs that capture Mali's diversity and cultural richness. Thirty of these photos are currently on view at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York in New Paltz. Deschamps' portraits incorporate the subjectivity of the sitters through their selection of backgrounds, frames, and props, a process that follows in the footsteps of the Malian innovators. The Dorsky exhibition is paired with a second exhibition of vintage and recent prints by Keïta and Sidibé, as well as Hamidou Maïga, Abdourahmane Sakaly, and Tijani Àdìgún Sitou. Both shows are curated by Daniel M. Leers and indicate that, despite the present-day conflict in Mali, the Malian portrait tradition is only growing stronger.