Malick Sidibé

It takes courage to open a gallery these days, when so many have closed since the recession hit. Yet that's just what Mariane Lenhardt has done downtown, and her first show justifies that confidence. A Parisian of African ancestry, she moved to Seattle last year because "my husband works for Boeing," she explains. The focus to her M.I.A. Gallery—not to be confused with the old Mia Gallery in Pioneer Square, which closed in '97—is to be contemporary and African art, making Malick Sidibé a perfect first show. Now in his late 70s, he apprenticed in a photo studio in Bamako, the capital of Mali, just as colonial rule was coming to an end. Once he could afford a camera, he went freelance, soon becoming Bamako's top party and studio photographer of the '60s and '70s. It was a giddy, heady time—the French were leaving, rock and roll was being discovered on LPs and transistor radios, men and women were allowed to mingle at dances, where the girls wore miniskirts and the guys sharp suits and ties. Sure, there's poverty and drought outside the frame of Sidibé's bright-flash images, but these are celebratory shots of people who want to celebrate (or dance or show off their new motorcycles). Leave it to Western photojournalists to cover the famines and orphans. This is African photography for Africans; and it's the best Seattle photo show I've seen in the last couple seasons. There's something proud and joyous about most of Sidibé's subjects; and their snazzy Western fashions help convey the optimism of the times—Black Power in the U.S., Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix on the airwaves, and the old map of French Sudan being redrawn into Mali and Senegal. Their world was profoundly new, and Sidibé beautifully captures the promise of that era. BRIAN MILLER

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 26. Continues through March 24, 2012

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