African Contemporary Photography

After the icy blasts across Europe in late February we can now see signs of Spring everywhere. The bulbs we planted last year are starting to push through the ground and the afternoon light has brightened. Spring brings with it new life, renewal and a desire to shake off the heaviness of winter hibernation and look forward to the increased light, longer days and change of wardrobe.
Just as we put our winter coats away and pull out our spring jackets so we do this with our homes. We often give our homes a refresh and spring clean once winter is over. Why do we use the term ‘Spring Clean’? Imagine back to a time before electricity when in Northern Europe and the US homes were heated with wood and coal. Over the course of winter the soot residue from these fires would build up on walls and in the curtains and furnishings.  The best time to dust and clean the house was in spring once it became warm enough to open the windows and door to let fresh air in and allow the dust to blow out.
In addition to spring cleaning I would advise you go further than that: look at each space in your home and ask yourself these questions: Does the current layout still work? Could some of these items be rearranged for a different look? Sometimes we get stuck in a design rut and stop noticing the space around us. Move an armchair, add a coffee table. Would that rug you have in the bedroom look better in the living room? Changing up the textiles and decorative items can transform the feel of a space. You don’t stay exactly the same from one year to the next, so why should your home? Give it the chance to reflect your personality and your life as you live it.


Photo by South African artist Thabiso Sekgala in KUDU blog

Photography © Thabiso Sekgala. Courtesy the artist & The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town.


In the early part of the twentieth century, in Africa as in Europe, photography was not easily accessible to the ordinary person. Cameras were the toys of the rich, as the materials and chemicals required to develop the photographs were expensive. The process was complicated and best left to the professionals, which is what people did. They would go to a professional photographic studio and have their formal portrait taken. You can tell a lot about the styles of the day or the message they someone wanted to convey by what they wore, as well as the composition of the scene. One of the earliest African photographers and universally recognised as the father of African photography, Seydou Keita  had a studio in Bamako, Mali. He would take photographs of his customers in their finest clothing with a very formal, classical pose and large format.


Photography by Seydou Keïta in KUDU blog

Photography © Seydou Keïta. Courtesy the artist and website :


Following on from Seydou Keita’s formal portraiture, along came Malik Sidibe, who is best-known for capturing the joyous spirit of youth in Bamako in the 1960s. Instead of staying in his studio, he went out and took his camera to where the young people were having fun; swimming in rivers and dancing at parties.


Photography by Malick Sidibe in KUDU blog

Photography © Malick Sidibé: 1. A la plage, 1974. Photograph: Malick Sidibé/Galerie Magnin-A, Paris // 2. Nuit de Noël (Happy Club), 1963 © Malick Sidibé. Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris // 3. Danseur Meringué, 1964. Photograph: Malick Sidibé/Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris


In the 1970s he returned to studio portraiture but updated the genre by allowing his subjects to include favourite objects in their scenes, such as their favourite records under their arms. His work came to worldwide attention in the 1990 and he was exhibited widely, winning many international prizes.


Photography by Malick Sidibe in KUDU blog

Photography © Malick Sidibé: 1. Les jeunes bergers Peulhs (young Peulh shepherds), 1972. Photograph: Malick Sidibé/Galerie Magnin-A, Paris // 2. Deux amies Peulhs. Photograph: Malick Sidibé/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


The work of both of these photographers is testimony to what African photography is like when it is not just photos of tribespeople, staring into the camera, which serves to remind one of the colonial gaze. The photos by these legendary photographers give the subjects agency to tell their own story.

Read more here:


I went to Somerset House to see this exhibition and it really was worth it. The impact of seeing the images in large format on huge walls with the exhibition soundtrack to accompany you will make you long to have hung out in hip Bamako, Mali forty-plus years ago! Entry is free and the exhibition runs until 26th February 2017.

Exhibition details:


Yours, bringing Africa home.

Thandi Mbali Renaldi




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