Critics’ Picks

Sanlé Sory, Mali Djeli, 1984, gelatin silver print, 24 x 20".

Sanlé Sory, Mali Djeli, 1984, gelatin silver print, 24 x 20".


Sanlé Sory

Weinstein Hammons Gallery
908 West 46th Street
October 18, 2019–January 5, 2020

Prop telephones, large sunglasses, and motorcycles appear throughout Sanlé Sory’s portraits of West African young adults, taken in the 1960s through ’80s in what is now Burkina Faso, just after the country gained independence from France. These retro objects, along with the painted backdrops and sharp, youthful fashions, index the culture of a specific place and time.

Portrait au Tapis, 1971, for example, depicts a young man in an unbuttoned shirt with a wide collar. A pendant rests on his chest hair, and his cocked hip accentuates the hefty belt on his striped pants. Jeune fan d’Eddy Mitchell, 1974, portrays a blasé adolescent in a paisley jumpsuit posing with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and a picture of the titular singer in his hand. These Western fashions are often fused with more regional styles. Some of Sory's photographs were taken on special occasions, including local festivals and ceremonies, when people would don a mix of modern European street clothing and African head coverings and patterned garments. Here, in Mali Djeli, 1984, a sitter wearing an Adidas T-shirt and fedora, with an enormous radio/tape deck player on his lap, sits next to a man in a tunic and loose pants who holds a djeli n'goni, an African lute.

The photographs are framed such that the edges of the hand-painted backdrops, the rolls of flooring, the occasional studio lights, and the odd chair are visible. These details reveal the studio as a place alive with customers streaming in at all hours, playing music, and experimenting with their own self-image during a period of personal and national change.