West African Portraiture: From Independence to the 21st Century

by SHOWstudio on 26 June 2021

The exhibition Tête-à-Têtes Part II runs until 30 July 2021 at the David Hill Gallery, London.

The exhibition Tête-à-Têtes Part II runs until 30 July 2021 at the David Hill Gallery, London.

Celebrating the cultural explosion that emerged in West Africa following independence, the exhibition Tête-à-Têteshas opened for a second run, having first launched in September 2020. Co-curated by Carrie Scott and David Hill, the group photography show features the work of Ibrahima Sanlé Sory, Rachidi Bissiriou and Malick Sidibé. The exhibition is held at the David Hill Gallery, which was founded in 2015 and has an eye for meaningful, yet often overlooked and unseen, works representative of cultural and political shifts.

Tête-à-Têtes Part II is an eyehole into West Africa following Ghana's independence in 1957. The period was hopeful, and defined by new fashion, including the yé-yé trend, and musicians such as the Volta Jazz group, who provided a key influence for fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner's most recent collection.

Sanlé Sory, 'Allo? On Arrive!', 1978

Scott and Hill have curated a show featuring some of the most important West African photographers who captured the period. Sanlé Sory, who worked in Bobo-Dioulasso, Upper Volta and now Burkina Faso (which gained independence in 1960), captured both West African youth having a good old time, and a snapshot of a massive cultural shift. The David Hill Gallery, however, were the first to present his work in 2017, and Sory later became the first African photographer to be given a solo show at an American museum - the Art Institute of Chicago. Tête-à-Têtes Part II features four previously unseen works by the artist.

Rachidi Bissiriou is also featured in the show. Their work was based in their hometown of Kétou in Benin, where Bissiriou ran the Studio Pleasure from 1968-1985. They captured the local villagers dancing in their flared trousers in the evening, and pulled them aside for a candid snapshot by day. There's a stillness in many of Bissiriou's portraits which welcome a moment of reflection, and an intimate meeting with the boy or girl on the street. The gallery now exclusively represent them.

Rachidi Bissiriou

The more globally established of the three photographers is the late Malick Sidibé, who has previously shown work at the Photographer's Gallery, Somerset House, the Museum of Modern Art and The Contemporary African Art Collection. He also was the first photographer and African artist to be recognised by the Venice Biennale in 2007 with the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement. Hailing from Bamak in Mali, Sidibés work also captured the youthquake which followed independence, together with the transition from being colonised. His black and white photographs were taken both in his studio and at buzzing dance parties and in the streets.

Malick Sidibé
Tête-à-Têtes Part 1 - in conversation film with curators David Hill and Carrie Scott

Tête-à-Têtes Part II runs until 30 July 2021 at the David Hill Gallery, London.


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