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Why Is Malick Sidibé’s Photo Series, ‘Vues de Dos’ Relevant on This Day?
My first encounter with the late Malian’s photos was in a solo exhibition in Somerset House. His work did not just increase my awareness of West African culture and history, it also made me think. Chimamanda Adichie once said ‘ to find yourself, think for yourself’.It was Sidibé’s photos that allowed me to do just that, especially because of his ability to capture heightened vulnerability from photos that explored radical, personal politics such as hyper-masculinity* to ordinary, seemingly mundane activities like dancing in a night club.
Before i left the gallery, i went into the pop up shop and bought a postcard:
It is this postcard and these pictures from Malick Sidibé’s ‘Vues de Dos’ photo series that inspired me to write a monologue;that taught me to think for myself.
The nameless woman’s posture is integral to the viewer’s understanding of his work. She is not just a woman posing for the camera, she is a woman whose attitude seems seLf-assured, who has agency, who is confident but who can be vulnerable, who gets lonely, who is oppressed and belittled, who is objectified, who is watched by the camera’s lens but also the male gaze.
The faceless woman does not need props or equipment.She is her own self.When her legs are in the air,when her shoulder is tilted slightly,when her hands rest on her pillow,she is still her own self.
The woman is hiding from the male gaze. At first glance,it might not be obvious that there is one.Perhaps it is the camera’s lens that gazes. Or is it? Is anyone really behind the camera? Is society telling her to look at how patriarchy has destroyed both men and women and is she scared of looking?Is she worried that her success, which is in front of the camera will be undermined and invalidated if she looks back?Does she fear that other women who she thought will encourage her are watching her as well?Is she angry that those that control the camera have given her bad names, romanticized her struggles, taken away her freedom, oppressed her for being female, created laws that promote domestic violence in the name of ‘corrective beating?Does she want to look at the camera but is worried those behind it will feel entitled to her body and then objectify her? Or maybe she too believes that the media will keep repeating its stereotypes it has of her and present ill representations of herself to the world.
And maybe this is untrue.She might really just be posing for the camera.