Friday, November 28, 2008

The Fabric of Their Lives

Portraits of Malians by Seydou Keïta.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting a special exhibit entitled The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End. It explores the storytelling aspects of fabrics in African life. There are people who can read an African garment like a biography book. One look at a certain print, and a trained eye can tell you the wearer's status, heritage, and so much more. The exhibit showcases textile samples, fabric-based art, paintings, and photographed portraits. The show's portraits shine as unbelievably gorgeous records of proud people.

Pictured with their prized possessions and loved ones, the subjects of featured photographer Seydou Keïta's black and white portraits are supremely stunning. By creating scenes for his sitters with their own radios, cars, musical instruments, friends, and family members, Keita showed the unique personalities and ways of life of the newly financially secure urban elite who commissioned his portraits. They were products of a rare period of prosperity in Malia beginning in the late 1940s and early '50s, and they dressed to impress.

Keïta's work in the exhibition is not to be missed. If by some chance you need more convincing than the samples pictured above, take a fresh look at wonder-director Mark Romanek's 1997 video for Janet Jackson's "Got Til It's Gone," which directly and beautifully quotes Seydou's iconic imagery.

The amount that I love that video is actually too much for words.

Click images for source information.

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