PRINT February 1998


With exhibitions at the Cartier Foundation in Paris and San Francisco MoMA, gallery shows in LA and New York, and the publication of an unusually successful collection of studio portraits, SEYDOU KEÏTA seemed to go overnight from an obscure photographer whose negatives languished in a Bamako, Mali, darkroom to an art-world phenomenon. In the following pages, Manthia Diawara looks beyond the succès fou to examine the historical context of these images and to ask what makes them so compelling.

WHEN AN EXHIBITION OF Seydou Keïta’s photographs opened recently in SoHo, I was intrigued by the statement made by a West African colleague of mine: This is exactly like it was in those days. That yellow convertible, the first Cadillac in Mali, everyone remembers as belonging to Sylla, the antique dealer in Bamako. And this one, with the long tribal scars from his sideburns to his chin, must have been

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