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UPCOMING | Samuel Fosso: A Retrospective

7/2/2022 — 10/30/2022

Tati 05

The Walther Collection presents the first major retrospective devoted to the French-Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso, one of the most renowned African contemporary artists. The exhibition brings together Fosso’s work from The Walther Collection with other emblematic series and unpublished photographs from his youth. They complement each other to retrace a path that oscillates between intimate introspection and collective narratives.

Though the genre of self-fiction, and more particularly self-portraiture, has been widely used by artists since the 1970s, Samuel Fosso has given this practice a new scope, both political and historical, fictional and intimate. With more than 200 works, mixing vintage prints from the 1970s, energetic color and black and white series from the 1990s and 2000s, this exhibition offers an extensive overview of Samuel Fosso’s oeuvre in the last fifty years.

Born in 1962 in Cameroon, Samuel Fosso began his career at a very young age as a studio photographer, in the tradition of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé. Since the mid-1970s, Fosso has focused on self-portraiture and performance, envisioning variations of identity in the postcolonial era. Spanning his early self-portraits in black-and-white from the 1970s to his most recent exercises in self-presentation, this retrospective highlights his remarkable body of work including the vibrant and colorful series "Tati" (1997). In this series, Fosso playfully embodies various stereotypical characters such as The Liberated American Woman, The Golfer, and The Rocker. Through these satirical and biting images, Fosso deeply questions the notion of personal and social identity. This ability to blend himself into other lives helps him gain the freedom to invent and narrate himself. In the series "African Spirits" (2008), Fosso poses, with uncanny precision, as icons of the pan-African liberation and Civil Rights movements, such as Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis.

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Samuel Fosso, Le rocker (The Rocker), 1997, from the series "Tati"
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Samuel Fosso, La femme américaine libérée des années 70 (The LiberatedAmerican Woman of the 1970s), 1997, from the series "Tati"
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Samuel Fosso, Le golfeur (The Golf Player), 1997, from the series "Tati"
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Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.), 2008, from the series "African Spirits"
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Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait (Angela Davis), 2008, from the series "African Spirits"
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Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait (Patrice Lumumba), 2008, from the series "African Spirits"

For Fosso, posing in front of the lens as significant historical figures and social archetypes are a way of bringing his existence into the world, and demonstrating the power of the photographic medium in constructing political visibilities.

In "Emperor of Africa" (2013), Fosso reveals himself as the Chinese leader Mao Zedong on his foray into Africa. Although China's growing economic and cultural presence has been enthusiastically welcomed by many African leaders, it has caused concern, especially among the continent's intellectuals. In a complex, multilayered performance, Fosso's Mao is both an ancestral figure and dictator, and Fosso himself the man behind the mask, interrogating empire and the postcolony.

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Samuel Fosso, "Emperor of Africa," 2013
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Samuel Fosso, "Emperor of Africa," 2013
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Samuel Fosso, "Emperor of Africa," 2013

In "Le rêve de mon grand-père" (2003), Fosso re-approaches his homeland which he left as a child and performs rituals he missed due to his absence. Fosso wears the traditional Igbo clothing and expresses by this how the self is connected to family history. It is a visual interpretation of wishful thinking and imagined memories, a ritual return from which violent postcolonial histories of his homeland could not alienate him.

“The sequence, often mistaken in the literature as being about Fosso’s grandfather, is not only his most intensely personal self-portrait series, but also an archive of symbolically meaningful actions by a man seeking to reconnect to a family history, a heritage, and a home from which he had long been exiled.” - Chika Okeke-Agulu

“Black Pope” (2015) challenges the adamant Catholic devotion to whiteness in contemporary visual culture with a new version of the pope. The series questions the hegemonies of truth and power upon which the belief system is based.

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Samuel Fosso, "Black Pope," 2017
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Samuel Fosso, "Black Pope," 2017
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Samuel Fosso, "Black Pope," 2017

Samuel Fosso: A Retrospective is a touring exhibition in collaboration between The Walther Collection, Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris), and Huis Marseille (Amsterdam). On the occasion of the exhibition, Steidl has published a French edition of Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Samuel Fosso’s oeuvre — originally co-published by The Walther Collection in 2020 — with essays and research by leading scholars and writers. Edited by Okwui Enwezor, it includes contributions by Quentin Bajac, Simon Baker, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Jean Marc Patras, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, and Artur Walther, as well as an in-depth conversation between Samuel Fosso and Okwui Enwezor.

Fosso autoportrait and sixsixsix copy
Cover Images: "Autoportrait," 2020 and "SIXSIXSIX," 2020
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