Overview

" 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

Works
Biography

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

 


 

CollectionS

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

Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 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

 


 

AWARDS

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 Créations, Paris, France

Exhibitions
Bibliography

LATEST Books

Studio Photo Nationale, Sébastien Girard & Maison européenne de la photographie, Paris, November 2021


Charlotte Jensen, Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century, Lewes, UK, Octopus Publishing Group in collaboration with Tate, April 2021


 À toi appartient le regard (…) et la liaison infinie entre les choses, exhibition catalogue, Paris, co-edition musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac / Actes Sud, July 2020


 Steven Evens & Mark Sealy, African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other, FotoFest Biennial 2020 exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, Schilt Publishing, 2020


 Samuel Fosso: SIXSIXSIX, with a conversation between Samuel Fosso and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Steidl & The Walther Collection, New York, May 2020


Okwui Enwezor (ed.), Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait, Steidl / The Walther Collection, New York. Texts by Quentin Bajac, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, April 2020 (French version published in November 2021)


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

Natacha Wolinski, « Samuel Fosso le caméléon, on stage à Paris », in The Art Newspaper n° 37, January 2022


 Clémentine Mercier, « Samuel Fosso. Une rétro par miracles », in Libération, 4 December 2021


 Valérie Duponchelle, « Samuel Fosso, fier autoportrait de l'Afrique », in Le Figaro, 19 November 2021


 Claire Guillot, « Les métamorphoses de Samuel Fosso », in M, le Magazine du Monde, 17 November 2021


 Frédérique Chapuis, « La MEP expose Samuel Fosso, l'homme aux mille visages », in Télérama Sortir, 3 November 2021


 Simon Njami, « Samuel Fosso, Dr. Jekyll et Mr. Hyde », in Fisheye n° 50, November-December 2020


 « Fosso Fashion 2021 », in A#22. A Magazine Curated by Grace Wales Bonner, November 2021


Luc Sante, « The Best Books to Give This Year: Photography », in The New York Times Book Review, 6 December 2020


 Claire Guillot, « Regards éclairés au musée du quai Branly », in Le Monde, 3 October 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


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


 

Publications
News
Press