This essay focuses on the story of Seydou Keïta (1921/1923–2001), a neighbourhood photographer in Bamako in the 1950s, whose archives have become the “jewel in the crown” of a private collection of contemporary African art. The author questions the gaps and inconsistencies in the photographer’s biography, which has been rewritten several times since 1994. Paradoxically the several thousand images making up the Seydou Keïta collection – an essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle of Mali’s photographic history – remain unknown to researchers and to Malians generally, who have only virtual and partial access to this visual heritage totally reconfigured for the needs of the art market. This essay emphasises the need for alternative modes of dissemination for the Seydou Keïta collection, in particular via digitisation, which would allow it to be “re-contextualised” from within Bamako, and would provide new ways of seeing through photography.
Érika Nimis is associate professor of art history at the Université du Québec à Montréal. A graduate of the National School of Photography in Arles (1995), she is the author of three books on the history of photography in West Africa, including Photographers of West Africa. The Yoruba Experience (Karthala, 2005), based on her doctoral dissertation. In 2013 she and Marian Nur Goni started a blog devoted to photography in Africa (‹ fotota.hypotheses.org ›).
Keywords: Seydou Keïta, Mountaga Dembélé, Félix Diallo, Mali, photography market, photographic heritage.