" Fosso, (...) by merging a popular African representational scene and language, took the photographic discourse of African identity to a space that exceeded the borders of individualised memorial and commemoration, and into a significant socio-cultural, as well as political temporality. "
Okwui Enwezor in Samuel Fosso, 5 Continents Editions, 2004
Born 1962 in Kumba (Cameroon)
Lives and works in Bangui, Central African Republic and Paris, France
French-Camerounian photographer Samuel Fosso has developed a prolific body of work, which has been exploring the potential of the photographic medium for nearly fifty years, and brought it fully into the realm of performance art.
His work has increasingly engaged with the cultural mythologies embodied in recognizable figures and social types - his career oscillating between personal introspection and collective narratives, tackling questions of identity, history, politics and gender.
When Samuel Fosso opened his own photography studio in 1975 in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, at just thirteen years of age, he had already experienced a great deal. Born in Cameroon, he suffered from paralysis as a small child and only recovered slowly with the help of his grandfather, a healer in Nigeria. Following the outbreak of the Biafra War in 1967, Fosso was forced to flee, first to Cameroon and finally to Bangui. After a short apprenticeship with a local photographer, he set himself up in the city as a portrait photographer.
To avoid wasting expensive film material, he began filling unfinished film rolls with self-portraits in the evenings. Inspired by the style of young African-Americans discovered in pop-culture magazines, or of the musician Prince Nico Mbarga, extremely popular in West Africa, Fosso posed as cross-gender characters in extravagant clothes and accessories. Every so often he sent his photographs to his grandmother, but otherwise he did not show them to anybody, partly because he did not want to risk political persecution due to his rather unconventional portrayals. That changed in 1994: after being discovered by the French photographer Bernard Descamps, Samuel was invited to the Rencontres africaines de la photographie in Bamako, the most important festival of its kind in Africa, where he won his first award. It was only after subsequently meeting and talking to significant African photographers like Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita that Fosso became more aware of the relevance of his own artistic work and was motivated to hone it further.
Inspired in part by his Igbo heritage and Igbo performance traditions of masquerade and body art, Fosso eventually forged a more explicitly theatrical style of self-portraiture. He himself remained the protagonist of his work, which at first continued to portray archetypes - always revolving around the question of identity - and became increasingly political.
The possibilities inherent in his earlier photographic experiments are borne out in series such as "Tati" in 1997, in which, supported for the first time by a production team (makeup artists, costume designers, lighting assistants...), he stages colorful, satirical tableaux of characters such as a tribal chief and a liberated 1970s woman.
For his series "African Spirits", which was completed in 2008, Fosso selected fourteen personalities from Africa and North America who had played a significant role in supporting the black population on both continents in their fight for equality, independence and freedom. They include politicians like Nelson Mandela and Patrice Lumumba, civil rights campaigners such as Angela Davis, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as athletes who were part of the black civil rights movement like Muhammad Ali and Tommie Smith. Fosso reproduced existing portraits of these people from different sources, slipping into their roles himself in time-consuming and elaborate sessions. He used mug shots, police photos, press images and professional studio portraits. Fosso's large-format, black-and-white pictures are an homage to those who helped to strengthen black rights. Many of them paid a high price for their commitment, some even with their lives. Fosso created "African Spirits" to ensure that their efforts are not forgotten, so that following generations can find out how much has been achieved on the path toward equal rights and what is still to be done. In these and other works, Fosso also touches on the Igbo masquerade concept of the living-dead, in which the spirits of forebears remain close to the living.
Fosso's work also reveals his deep interest in the circulation of images. The poses and costumes in "African Spirits" are drawn from well-known photographs such as Magnum photographer Eve Arnold's quietly powerful portrait of Malcolm X (1961). Fosso's astute understanding of the power that images accumulate through dissemination guides his approach, both in his meticulous restaging of famous portraits and in his playful evocation and deconstruction of stereotypes via his invented portraits.With "Emperor of Africa", Samuel Fosso emboded Mao Zedong, recreating his official iconography in his poses and with the background landscape. This unique vision of the Chinese leader could be seen as a subtle criticism of the power China exercises over the African continent, through its policy of developing its natural resources.
Samuel Fosso's work can be described as an artistic work of resilience and resistance; this can also be seen in the recent series entitled "SIXSIXSIX", a monumental installation of 666 large-format Polaroids that is both a political and philosophical statement. The series paints a picture of a complex understanding of humanity, in both the best and the worst senses of the term, and whose condition is one of acceptance of both joy and suffering.
Sources :« Samuel Fosso. Photographic Self-Explorations » in Anne-Marie Beckmann (edited by), XL Photography 6. Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Heidelberg, Kehrer Verlag, May 2019
Rebecca Lowery, « Introduction to Samuel Fosso » in MoMA website, 2018
Musée National d’Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Paris, France
Centre National des Arts Plastiques, France
FRAC Réunion, France
Tate, London, UK
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena, Italy
Fondation Sindika Dokolo, Luanda, Angola
Fondation Zinsou, Cotonou, Benin
Robert Devereux’s Sina Jina Collection of Contemporary Art, Lamu, Kenya
Gordon Schachat Collection, Johannesburg, South Africa
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montréal, Canada
Progressive Corporation, Mayfield Village, OH, USA
Akron Museum of Art, Akron, OH, USA
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY, USA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA
The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany and New York, NY, USA
International Center of Photography, New York, NY, USA
The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, USA
Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, USA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA, USA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, USA
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ, USA
The Newark Museum of Art, NJ, USA
Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, KS, USA
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO, USA
North Carolina Museum of Art, NC, USA
Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN, USA
Baltimore Museum of Art, MD, USA
Samuel Fosso’s work is significantly represented in important corporate collections, that we can’t legally mention here.
2018 ICP Infinity Award, category Art, New York, USA
PHotoESPAÑA Award, Madrid, Spain
2001 Prince Claus Fund Award, Den Hague, The Netherlands
2000 Dak'Art First prize for photography, Dakar, Senegal
1995 Afrique en Création, Paris, France
Installation ALLONZENFANS & SIXSIXSIXGare de Lyon, Paris 1 - 15 Dec 2021On the occasion of the major retrospective dedicated to Samuel Fosso, the Maison européenne de la photographie has joined forces with SNCF Gares & Connexions to show two of the artist's recent series in the gare de Lyon in Paris.
Samuel FossoMaison européenne de la photographie, Paris 10 Nov 2021 - 13 Mar 2022The MEP is pleased to present the first major retrospective of French-Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso. This landmark exhibition spans his five-decade career, revisiting bodies of work (...)
This World is White No Longer. Views of a Decentered WorldMuseum der Moderne Salzburg, Rupertinum 24 Apr - 10 Oct 2021This World is White No Longer. Views of a Decentered World - Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, 2021
Who is gazing? A toi appartient le regard et (...) la liaison infinie entre les chosesMusée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Paris 30 Jun - 1 Nov 2020Who is gazing? A toi appartient le regard et (...) la liaison infinie entre les choses - Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Paris
Samuel Fosso: Self-PortraitsNational Portrait Gallery, London 24 Jun - 24 Sep 2017Fosso began making self-portraits aged thirteen when he opened his own photographic studio in Bangui, Central African Republic in 1975. In these private studio self-portraits, the artist used masquerade and...
Charlotte Jensen, Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century, Lewes, UK, Octopus Publishing Group in collaboration with Tate, April 2021
Okwui Enwezor (edited by), Samuel Fosso : Autoportrait, Steidl / The Walther Collection, New York. Text by Quentin Bajac, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, April 2020
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Samuel Fosso: SIXSIXSIX, Steidl & The Walther Collection, New York, April 2020
MoMA Highlights : 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Publications, 2019
Phil Taylor, « Samuel Fosso », in Among Others: Blackness at MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 2019
Articles & Reviews
David Doucet, « Le pape est noir! », in Big Bang. L'almanach des possibles, May 2021
Luc Sante, « The Best Books to Give This Year: Photography », in The New York Times Book Review, 6 December 2020
Alex Greenberger, « The Future Now : 10 African Artists to Watch », in ARTnews.com, 18 July 2018
Gloria Crespo MacLennan, « Samuel Fosso : "Un día habrá un papa negro que será de Africa" », in El Pais, 7 June 2018
« Samuel Fosso y Leopoldo Zugaza, premios PHotoEspaña y Bartolomé Ros », in El Cultural, 4 June 2018
David Doucet, Portfolio « L'Afrique du futur », in Les Inrocks n° 1150, 9 December 2017
Nicolas Michel, « Biennale africaine de la photographie : Samuel Fosso, un pape noir à Bamako », in Jeune Afrique, 4 December 2017
A Magazine Curated By Grace Wales BonnerRhapsody In The Street November 2021
A toi appartient le regardExhibition catalogue Co-edition musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac / Actes Sud, July 2020
AutoportraitMonograph Steidl - The Walther Collection, April 2020
Samuel Fosso: AutoportraitMonograph - French version Steidl - The Walther Collection, 2021
SIXSIXSIXSamuel Fosso Steidl - The Walther Collection, May 2020
Studio Photo NationaleSamuel Fosso Sébastien Girard & Maison européenne de la photographie, November 2021
Xl Photography 6Art Collection Deutsche Börse Kehrer Verlag, 2019
Samuel Fosso in conversation with Chris DerconMaison européenne de la photographie, Paris December 16, 2021The MEP is pleased to welcome photographer Samuel Fosso and art historian Chris Dercon for an exceptional conversation in the auditorium. The discussion will be...
The "SIXSIXSIX" series by Samuel Fosso enters the musée du quai BranlyOctober 19, 2021We are happy to announce that the monumental work 'SIXSIXSIX' by Samuel Fosso (2016) enters the collections of the musée du quai Branly - Jacques...
Narcisismo altruistaChristian Caujolle, Internazionale 1439, December 10, 2021
Samuel Fosso: l'autoportrait comme revancheMagali Jauffret, L'Humanité, December 7, 2021
Prenez, ceci est mon corpsNicolas Michel, Jeune Afrique, December 5, 2021
Samuel Fosso. Une rétro par miraclesClémentine Mercier, Libération, December 4, 2021
Samuel Fosso, fier autoportrait de l'AfriqueValérie Duponchelle, Le Figaro, November 19, 2021
Les métamorphoses de Samuel FossoClaire Guillot, M, le magazine du Monde, November 17, 2021
La MEP expose Samuel Fosso, l'homme aux mille visagesFrédérique Chapuis, Télérama Sortir, November 3, 2021
666 fois FossoRafael Pic, Le Quotidien de l'Art, June 24, 2021
The Best Books to Give This Year: PhotographyLuc Sante, The New York Times Book Review, December 6, 2020
Photo : regards éclairés au Musée du quai BranlyClaire Guillot, Le Monde, October 2, 2020
À toi appartient le regard - Photographies et vidéos contemporainesMultiple authors, Beaux Arts Editions, July 8, 2020
The Future Now: 10 African Artists to WatchAlex Greenberger, ARTnews, July 18, 2018