Leila Heller Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of African photographer Seydou Keïta, drawn from a selection of his black and white portraits of the residents of Bamako, Mali from 1948 to 1960.


Keïta’s work captures the essence of the historic moment when the continent undergoes decolonization from Europe and a new sense of African identity is emerging. His photographs document these changes, especially visible in the poses and gestures that his sitters adopt to assert their thorough modernity. Keïta delvelops a rich aesthetic vocabulary through his portraits staged against painted backdrops juxtaposing the distinctively vibrant and boldly-patterned African fabrics with Western props like cars, radios, and sunglasses. Renewing his props every few years, he was able to establish a chronology for his work and bear witness to the changes in urban Malian society. Keïta’s posed portraits communicate the essence of that time by combining tradition with these signifiers of modern identity.


About the Artist:

Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) lived in Bamako, Mali and opened a studio in 1948 and specialized in portraiture. In 1994 André Magnin organized the first solo exhibition of Seydou Keïta’s modern prints at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. This exhibition marked the beginning of the global discovery of Keïta’s work. In 1997, a large monograph on Keïta’s work was published with Scalo editions in Zurich. Among the exhibitions devoted to Keïta’s work are those mounted by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (1996), the Guggenheim Museum (1996) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1997), Gagosian Gallery (1997), São Paulo Biennal (1998), Kunsthalle Wien (2001), the Museum of Fine Art Houston (2005), Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (2006), Gallery Fifty One, Belgium (2011), Grand Palais (2016).


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