Fresh, Fly & Bold: Mario Testino Presents Hamidou Maiga

Photo: Hamidou Maiga Untitled, 1962.

Contemporary African art has come to the fore, giving us exquisite insights into the intricacies, nuances, and aesthetics of the oldest peoples on earth. But Africa is not a country; it is a continent as rich and diverse as the DNA of the peoples, who possess the greatest variety in the world. Its arts reflect this in whatever form they may take, providing poetic and philosophical vantage points by which we may consider a wide array of experiences.

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Photography has been an integral part of the aesthetic landscape since its inception in the nineteenth century. Throughout the twentieth-century we have seen portrait photographers such as Malick Sidibé amd Seydou Keita rise in prominence, such is the power of their work to capture the soul of Mali on silver gelatin paper.

Hamidou Maiga Untitled, 1973

Their success and influence have become a tremendous draw to other great portrait photographers working in other countries. MATE – Museo Mario Testino, Lima, Peru, is particularly attuned to the great photographers of our time. For the third edition of Maestros se la Fotografía, MATE presents Hamidou Maiga, on view now through October 2, 2016. The exhibition features a selection of 36 black-and-white photographs made by the 84-year-old artist made between 1962–1973.

Born in 1932, Bobodioulasso, Burkina Faso, Hamidou Maiga moved to Timbuktu, Mali, to work as a mason. He began working as a photographer in the 1950s after purchasing his first camera, a medium format Souflex. In 1958, he opened his first studio in N’Gouma, where he created outdoor studio portraits. Two years later, he returned to Timbuktu and opened a studio there

Hamidou Maiga Untitled, 1973

His studio portraits are beautiful images of style, power, and pride, embodying the very ethos of all that is fly. They are as elegant as they are cool, revealing the face of the nation as it won its independence from France despite the injustice and indignities of colonial occupation. Maiga’s portraits are remarkably intimate for such formal affairs, showing us that it is truly the insiders who know the people as they know themselves.

In 1973 Maiga opened his first studio in Bamako. It was during this new era of independence that Mali came into its own. With new freedoms came economic expansion and confidence, a great elevation of spirit that finds itself perfectly at home in Maiga’s photographs. They begin combining European and American fashions into their look, but rather than appropriate, they simply reinvent it on their own terms.

Hamidou Maiga Untitled, 1973

Fresh dressed and set against painted backgrounds, Maiga’s subjects employed props to communicate their sense of self to the world. The result is pure magic. As with the best of all portrait photographs, there’s a sense of knowing these strangers simply of their facial expressions and body language. Most communication is non-verbal, as Maiga’s photographs attest. We see, feel, and embrace the freedom that his subjects bring to each frame.

After a lifetime in photography, Maiga’s archive came to the attention of the West in 2011, when curator and gallery owner Jack Bell came upon them. They have since been acquired by Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK, Manchester Art Gallery, Carleton College in Minnesota, USA, among other collections—and have found there way to South America, proving the power of art to transcend all boundaries.

All Photos: © Hamidou Maiga, courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.