Samuel Fosso
Autoportrait

9/24/2020 — 2/6/2021

SF 128 12 Fosso SM20 70s Lifestyle 1975 78

Conceptual Framework

Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait presents a survey of works spanning four decades of production in the career of West African photographer Samuel Fosso, who has played a critical role in the formation of modern and contemporary African photography. Building on the 2014 Project Space exhibition of the artist’s work, this presentation celebrates Fosso’s position within The Walther Collection’s core works of portraiture, and affirms its dedication to both long-term engagements with individual artists and the cultivation of in-depth research on African contributions to the history of photography.

SF 128 10 Fosso SM31 70s Lifestyle 1975 78
Samuel Fosso, "70's Lifestyle," 1975–78
SF 128 08 Fosso SM11 70s Lifestyle 1975 78
 
SF 128 09 Fosso SM29 70s Lifestyle 1975 78
 

Since opening his own photography business, the Studio Nationale, in Bangui, Central African Republic at the age of thirteen, Samuel Fosso (b. 1962, Cameroon) has focused on self-portraiture. Throughout his career, Fosso has transformed his body through performance, envisioning variations of identity in the postcolonial era. In the lineage of masters of the staged self-portrait—such as Pierre Molinier, Van Leo, Cindy Sherman, and Yasumasa Morimura—Fosso’s early experimental works from the 1970s created a visual vocabulary opposed to both the ethnographic visions of Africa and the commercial imperatives of studio portraiture. Moving beyond the physical confines of his Bangui studio, his personal photo essays of the 2000s are tinged with a melancholic tone. A black-and-white image from one such series, "Mémoire d’un ami" (2000), renders Fosso reclining near nude in a spartan bedroom. It restages a moment of fear for the artist, made in memory of a neighbor killed by the Central African armed militia.

SF 6859 Fosso Diptych1 ALLONZENFANS 2013
Samuel Fosso, [Diptych #1], from "ALLONZENFANS," 2013

Deploying his now iconic theatrical and uncanny characterizations, Fosso has embodied a range of characters—deployed to different ends and inciting effects. Intervening directly into France’s fraught military history, "ALLONZENFANS" (2013) evokes the century-long, under-examined efforts of West African soldiers who served alongside their colonial authorities through the course of the two World Wars. Embodying Chairman Mao in "Emperor of Africa" (2014), Fosso excavates the myth-making qualities of the political portrait, while gesturing to the troubled contemporary relationships between China and the African continent. Bringing a more playful edge to these strategies, his "Black Pope" (2017) portraits frankly and boldly ask the question: What might a pope born in Africa look like? How might he act when brought before the camera? Finally, shot against the same deep vermilion backdrop, a selection of 66 Polaroids from "SIXSIXSIX," Fosso’s monumental 2015 series of six hundred sixty-six self-portraits, offer a striking departure from Fosso’s earlier work. In its understated, stripped-back approach, "SIXSIXSIX" stages an unmediated relation, underscoring this artist’s unfailing, interminable dialogue with the camera and unparalleled photographic career.

SF 6855 02 SFBP26226 Fosso Black Pope 2017
Samuel Fosso, "Black Pope," 2017
SF 6855 01 Fosso Black Pope 2017
 

Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait coincides with the release of two landmark books on the photographer’s work, co-published by The Walther Collection and Steidl. The first, Autoportrait, charts Fosso’s conceptual practice of self-portraiture in its entirety, exposing his sustained engagement with notions of sexuality, gender and self-presentation. It is edited by the late Okwui Enwezor, and includes an in-depth interview between Enwezor and Fosso, alongside texts by Quentin Bajac, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, and Artur Walther. The tightly focused project book, SIXSIXSIX, delves deeply into Fosso’s 2015 series and includes a foreword by Jean Marc Patras and an interview with Fosso by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait is curated by Oluremi C. Onabanjo. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019).

SF 6195 Fosso SIXSIXSIX 2015 16
Samuel Fosso, "SIXSIXSIX," 2015–16

The winner of the 2018 International Center for Photography (ICP) Infinity Award for Art photography, Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits have been featured in seminal exhibitions including In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present (1996) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (2001) at Villa Stuck, Munich and MoMA PS1, New York; and Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2005) at Hayward Gallery, London, among others. A stronghold in The Walther Collection’s holdings of African photographic portraiture, Fosso appeared in its inaugural exhibition, Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity (2010) curated by Okwui Enwezor. Fosso lives and works between Lagos, Bangui, and Paris, and is represented by JM Patras Galerie.

Artworks on display

    Publications

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