Fosso, Samuel


Cameroonian, b. 1962; lives and works in Bangui and Paris


In 1975, at the age of thirteen, Samuel Fosso opened his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. During the day, he made pictures for paying clients, but at night, to use up unfinished rolls of film, he turned the camera on himself and began creating expressive self-portraits. Fosso’s work from the 1970s, in which he references popular West African musicians and the latest youth fashions, addresses variations in African identity. His earliest photographs, which experiment with costume, pose, and lighting, display an instinct to create images opposed to the ethnographic visions of Africa and also to the commercial imperatives of studio portraiture. In later series, particularly "African Spirits," Fosso extends the impulse of his first self-portraits by reenacting historical images drawn from magazines and newspapers. "African Spirits" comprises portraits of Fosso posing as icons of the pan-African liberation movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, and Muhammad Ali. These highly theatrical, often uncanny impersonations not only honor the figures who fought for civil rights and postcolonial independence, but also display how their mastery of self-styling for the media helped to shape and enforce political ideals. "African Spirits," Fosso says, is an "homage to the leaders who have tried to liberate us, to give us back our dignity as Africans and as blacks."

Artworks by Fosso, Samuel

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