Born in Burkina Faso (at the time Upper Volta), a former French colony in West Africa, Sory Sanlé began his photography career in 1960 – the same year the country gained its hard-earned independence.
Working first as an apprentice for Ghanaian photographer Kodjo Ademako, Sanlé quickly learned to process and print photographs taken with his Rolleiflex twin lens camera. After freelancing as a photographer and record sleeve illustrator, Sanlé went on to open one of the country’s earliest photography studios, Volta Photo, in Bobo-Dioulasso – a cultural and socio-economic hub.
Sanlé’s photographs showcase a community at a vibrant cultural crossroads between tradition and modernity. His studio appealed to the burgeoning pop culture and nightlife flourishing across Burkina Faso, capturing lively portraits and scenes of celebration. Inspired by recent screenings at Bobo-Dioulasso’s two international cinemas, many of Sanlé’s youths are captured in costumes, dressing themselves as cowboys, pirates and knights. Offering a choice of painted and store-bought backdrops, alongside props such as a motorbike or telephone, Sanle’s subjects could re-enact film scenes, assume characters or simply pose in their finest clothes.
Rediscovered in recent years, Sanlé has since exhibited in major museums and galleries around the world including the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris and Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition at The Arts Club reaffirms the importance of Sanlé’s work in capturing a pivotal moment in the history of Burkina Faso, and the African continent’s wider shift towards independence, as a whole.
The exhibition is curated by Amelie von Wedel and Pernilla Holmes from Wedel Art. Sory Sanlé is represented by David Hill Gallery, London.