Curator‘s Comments

During the 1950s Seydou Keita was one of the most successful portrait photographers in Mali. Catering to the growing middle class in the decade before Mali’s independence from France, Keita captured both the faces and aspirations of middle-class Africans.

Keita’s portraits are distinguished by the presence of decorative, sometimes clashing patterns, a mixture of traditional and modern dress, and the prominent featuring of consumer goods that signal the sitter’s prestige or modernity, such as bicycles, motorbikes, or radios. Because they were made for commercial purposes, many of Keita’s photographs are undated. However, approximate dates can be estimated from the backdrops: this photograph, for example, features the textured fringed bedspread he used between 1949 and 1952. 

Keita did not often make enlargements, such as this, as he did not have the necessary equipment in his studio. Enlargements and hand-coloring were only done at the request of the sitter. These hand-colored enlargements were often displayed in hand-painted frames done by the same artist who did the coloring. The self-possessed woman depicted in this photograph chose to have her jewelry, lips, headscarf, and nails accented in gold and red.  

A Malian Woman

Seydou Keïta. Malian, 1921–2001

A Malian Woman, 1949–1951

Vintage gelatin silver print with handcoloring

Purchased

ID Number: SC 2013:50-2