By Damali and Nii B. Andrews.

The photographs of Youssouf Sogodogo focus on the high art of indigenous African hair braiding from his native Mali.

As a reaction to the staged photographs of his predecessors in what was dubbed the “golden era” of African photography, Sogodogo tried to capture an intimacy and spontaneity in his series of photos dating from the 1980s.

He was largely successful especially in channeling the powerful aesthetic qualities of the African hair braiding design culture.

Bougouni fla (Two little huts), 2001. Tresses du Mali (Hairstyles of Mali) series. Silver gelatin print. 14.5 x 9.5 inches (36.8 x 24.1 cm). https://apps.carleton.edu

His photographs transmit the geometric and striking graphic quality of African hair braiding – an indigenous wholly organic art form that should be preserved, improved and transmitted as an important part of the world’s heritage.

Sogodogo honed his technique to focus primarily on hair, enlarging and repeating the images – until he felt that they more honestly translated the vivaciousness of the art form with which he was confronted.

Thus the photos are also a method of conservation and archiving for the artist, scholars, hair designers and others.

Indeed, an active gesture on his part was aimed at thwarting the growing prevalence of foreign wig shops across the continent thus threatening this indigenous craft by slowly and steadily erasing important elements of African knowledge, heritage and culture.

Perhaps, Sogodogo should be considered a protagonist for an authentic, vibrant and sustainable contemporary African culture anchored in, continuously enriched, made relevant and progressive by ancestral narratives.

Untitled, from the series Les Tresses du Mali (Hairstyles of Mali)1997; printed 2011, gelatin silver print. 14 7/16 in. x 9 7/8 in. (36.67 cm x 25.08 cm). Copyright sfmoma.

The series was shown for the first time in 10 years by an arts platform –  Black Shade Projects, in London in September 2019.

It will be shown in Marrakech as part of the 1-54 Fair this month and in New York City in May 2020.

Youssouf Sogodogo was educated at Mali’s National Institute of Arts.

His career began in museum administration. From 1982 to 1985 he served as director of the Sahel Museum in Gao, where he took up photography.

Flakun (Fulani hairstyle), 1983, Tresses du Mali (Hairstyles of Mali) series. Silver gelatin print, 14.5 x 9.5 inches (36.8 x 24.1 cm). https://apps.carleton.edu
Tiamanchtiè bougouni (Little hut in the middle), 1997,Tresses du Mali (Hairstyles of Mali) series. Silver gelatin print. 14.25 x 9.5 inches (36.8 x 24.1 cm). https://apps.carleton.edu

Leave a Reply