Adama Kouyaté – 50 Works
Adama Kouyaté – 50 Works, an online exhibition comprised primarily of vintage studio portraits by the Malian photographer, focuses mainly on the Artist’s studio practices, highlighting his unique, convivial style and photographic competence while also promoting ideas of the photo studio as an integral social hub within a community. The photographs, mostly taken at Kouyaté’s third and final studio, Photo Hall d’Union, chronicle men, women, and children in a newly-liberated Mali —symbolized through personal props, bright fashion, and loud body language, the country’s newfound freedom is put boldly on display.
Before the colloquial use of cameras in a region, studios are the principal sites of photography. The novel significance of sitting for a portrait is evident in early daguerreotypes or carte de visites. Much like these Western antecedents, the portraits taken by Kouyaté and his contemporaries in West Africa, such as Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta, served a similar function. Portraits were a staged and orchestrated event; subjects would very carefully choose how they would want to be immortalized in print by choice of clothing, jewelry, and other accessories. However, unlike the more formal nature of early Western portrait studios, the West African studios took on more of a social function. While Kouyaté’s early work consisted mostly of commissioned portraits of life milestones such as weddings and births, his later work captures a more celebratory slice of life for the people of West Africa during the shifting political landscape. The effects of liberation are visible in the photographs as globalization takes its toll and subjects are seen wearing Western clothing and sometimes even pose with their motorbikes.
Adama Kouyaté – 50 Works is the first exhibition of the photographer’s work since his death in 2020.
Photo Credit: Untitled, 1954, Silver print. Photographer Adama Kouyaté.