Samuel Fosso (Kumba, CM, 1962–Bangui, CF; Paris, FR) is one of the most renowned African photographers working today. He has been a key innovator in the great tradition of African studio photography since the mid-1970s, developing a distinctive form of explicitly theatrical self-portraiture. In these autofictional self-portraits with artful make-up and lavish costumes, props and sets, Fosso blends photography and performance.
His self-portraits are not so much self-dramatizations as self-transformations. He slips into roles and borrows identities—from pivotal figures in history as well as social archetypes, many of them with deep roots in the globally networked visual memory. He links autobiographical themes and self-conceptions with political and historical perspectives. The works articulate the complexity and diversity of contemporary identities and explore the relations between Africa and the East and West in the era of postcolonialism and globalization.
We are showing the major retrospective exhibition in cooperation with the Generali Foundation Collection - Permanent Loan at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg and presenting a selection of Samuel Fosso's most important groups of works. After the Generali Foundation show curated by Jürgen Tabor at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, the Gottorf exhibition is one of his first in Germany.
Born in Cameroon, Samuel Fosso first spent his childhood in Nigeria. After the Biafra war, he moved to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. After a brief apprenticeship, Fosso opened his own studio for portrait photography in 1975, when he was thirteen. His business success rested on his flair for fashion and aesthetics and his talent for encouraging his clients to show off their personal style. Having spent his workday taking portraits of paying customers, he switched to the other side of the camera in the evening: taking inspiration from West African and African-American music, youth culture, and political rebellion, he donned tight shirts, extravagant bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and offbeat props to stage himself in unconventional and unconstrained poses. The result was Fosso’s early series of experimental black-and-white self-portraits now known under the title 70’s Lifestyle (1975–78).
In series such as African Spirits (2008) and Emperor of Africa (2003), Fosso’s work takes on a more pronounced political edge. In African Spirits, he embodies historic protagonists of the pan-African independence and civil rights movement including Angela Davis, Patrice Lumumba, Haile Selassie, Martin Luther King Jr., and Muhammad Ali. The portraits in African Spirits pay homage to the campaigners for civil rights and colonial independence.
In the series Emperor of Africa, Fosso grapples with the complexities of the power differential between China and Africa by casting himself in the role of the controversial Chinese revolutionary and Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. In his reenactments, Fosso portrays Mao not only as a liberator, but also as a symbol of a modern imperialism.