press release

West Palm Beach, FL - The Norton Museum of Art opens its 2002 –2003 special exhibition season with You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé. The exhibition presents 58 stunning black and white photographs by Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, commercial photographers from Bamako, Mali, who have received international recognition for their work. The exhibition will be on view in the King gallery from September 21- January 5, 2003. Using the studio as a theater in which to construct images of the self by coordinating native costumes, props, lighting, and poses, the resulting portraits are fascinating for their portrayal of African subjects by African artists. The Museum's education department is offering a series of public programs to complement the exhibition including a lecture by Michelle Lamunière, exhibition curator and catalog author, on Sunday, November 10, 2002.

The title of the exhibition, You look Beautiful Like That, comes from a popular phrase in Bambara, the language widely spoken in Mali, and reflects the photographers' goal of making their subjects look good. Presented as large exhibition prints, the portraits of Keïta (c.1921-2001) and Sidibé (born c.1935) are graphically stunning and psychologically engaging. Decorative textiles, elaborate adornment, a mixture of traditional and contemporary dress, and prominently displayed consumer goods appear in symmetrical compositions featuring constructed poses. The images reflect a combination of self-consciousness and pride of presentation in the subjects.

The exhibition includes 71 black and white images, of which 11 are postcards from the early part of the 20th century showing the portrait conventions used by early European and African photographers in West Africa — providing historical precedents for the work of Keïta and Sidibé.

Another 14 are vintage prints made by Sidibé showing the original postcard-sized format of the studio portraits, which sitters distributed among family and friends. The remainder of the prints are contemporary enlargements made from the original negatives of both photographers. Keïta's portrait photographs were first shown abroad in a 1991 exhibition at the Center for African Art in New York. Sidibé presented his lively photographs of Bamako youth in 1995 at the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain in Paris.

Dr. Virginia Heckert, the Norton Museum's Curator of Photography, comments, "We're very excited to present this exhibition at the Norton for several reasons. Curator Michelle Lamunière's scholarship and organization are outstanding; the exhibition explores the history of studio portraiture in one country over a period of several decades; it addresses the phenomenon of the 'portrait dialog' that occurs between photographer and sitter, as well as the opportunity it provides for the sitter to define and present an image of the self; and, finally, it includes remarkably beautiful images."

The Photographers: Both photographers operated highly regarded commercial studios in the capital city of Bamako in the years prior to and following the country's fight for independence from France in 1960. Catering to a burgeoning middle class, Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé made tens of thousands of portraits for members of the community, portraits that were proudly displayed at home or sent to family and friends as a potent means of self-definition during a time of considerable social change. Both photographers utilized the studio as a theater in which to construct an image of the self, coordinating costumes, props, lighting and poses for each sitter, thereby enabling each to sense who he or she was as an individual and as part of a newly defined nation. Keïta adapted traditional formulas of studio portraiture by encouraging his clients to project their social identity within the community for the camera. His images reflect a combination of self-consciousness and pride of presentation. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a new generation of clients embraced modernity with increasing enthusiasm, Sidibé developed his own expressive style by encouraging his subjects to take an even more active role in constructing the images they wanted to convey.

The Curators: The exhibition was organized by Michelle Lamunière, Associate Curator of Photography at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University and a Ph.D. candidate in the Art History Department at Boston University. It was installed at the Norton Museum of Art by Dr. Virginia Heckert, William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography.

The Catalog: The exhibition catalog features over 100 pages of black and white photographs by Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, as well as text and interviews authored by Michelle Lamunière.

Exhibition Credits: This exhibition was organized by the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The local presentation of this exhibition is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Local media support is provided by the Palm Beach Daily News and WXEL-TV42 and 90.7FM.


You Look Beautiful Like That:
The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malik Sidibé