Seydou Keïta

Seydou Keïta was a Malian photographer born in 1921 and died on 21st November 2001. He is best known for his portraits of people and families he took at his portrait photography studio in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in the 1950s. The photographs of Seydou Keïta are widely acknowledged not only as a record of Malian society but also as pieces of African Contemporary Art.

His numerous clients were drawn by the quality of his photos and his great sense of aesthetics. Many were young men, dressed in European style clothing. Some customers brought in items they wanted to be photographed with but Keïta also had a choice of European clothing and accessories – watches, pens, radios, scooter, etc. – which he put at their disposal in his studio. The women came in flowing robes often covering their legs and their throats, only beginning to wear Western outfits in the late 60s. Seydou Keïta worked primarily with daylight and for economic reasons took only a single shot for each picture. Seydou Keïta was discovered in the West in the 1990s. His first solo exhibition took place in 1994 in Paris at the Fondation Cartier. This was followed by many others in various museums, galleries and foundations worldwide. He is now universally recognized as the father of African photography and considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. 


“It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I never was wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands… I was capable of making someone look really good. The “photos were always very good. That’s why I always say that it’s a real art.” 

– Seydou Keïta, Bamako, 1995/1996 © André Magnin

Keita’s work is held in the following permanent collections:

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois: 8 items
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri: 2 items
Minneapolis Institute of Art , Minneapolis, Minnesota: 6 items
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York: 10 items
University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Chicago, Illinois: 5 items

Solo exhibitions

2001: Flash Afrique, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria & Düsseldorf Cultural Forum, Germany
2011: Seydou Keïta, Gallery Fifty One, Antwerp, Belgium
2018: Bamako Portraits, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Group exhibitions
1996: African Photographers, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
2005: African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, USA
2006: About Africa, part one, Gallery Fifty One, Antwerp, Belgium
2006: Some Tribes, Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland
2006: Vive l’Afrique, Galerie du Jour – Agnès b., Tokyo, Japan
2006: 100% Africa, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
2007: Why Africa?, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin, Italy
2008: Accrochage, Gallery Fifty One, Antwerp, Belgium
2009: Masters of Photography, Gallery Fifty One, Antwerp, Belgium
2015: The Pistil’s Waltz, Gallery Fifty One, Antwerp, Belgium

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