Posts Tagged ‘Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)

12
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Burlafingen, Germany

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 20th November 2022

Curators: Clothilde Morette, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, and Clara Stratmann

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife… [his uncle] bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.” (Press release)

In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. Can you imagine being a precocious 13 year-old, running your own commercial studio, and then at the end of the day creating sets and costumes and taking on roles to reflect his interest in African and Black American style. As a young man he is finding his own identity through pose and play. “Using the camera as a mirror, he takes on and explores various roles. It’s a game of trying on identities that is familiar to teenagers in particular the world over, a game we play in an attempt to find ourselves, or rather to construct an individual identity.”1 It’s not just playing dress ups or charades: the photographs are an exciting investigation into the desire to find oneself, as an artist and as a human being. Whom am I, who can I be in this life?

Fast forward 20 years or so, and “Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.” (press release) Fosso’s goal was to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography.

This is where it takes the courage of your own convictions, an inherent sense of your creativity as an artist, and respect for yourself as a human being … to strike out and do something different from everyone else, to recognise the chance of taking a different path, to use your imagination to create something fresh and new. Fosso understood this was a crossroads in his life. He could carry on down the same path as Keïta and Sidibé or he could take a chance and strike out on his own, to create “a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation” through “self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities.”

Fosso was on his way. More insightful series followed which reflect the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics, which oscillate between personal introspection and collective narratives: reenacting historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, performing an imaginary Black Pope, embodying Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa which highlights the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries, and posing as members of the French colonial military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War.

“By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”” (press release)

By placing himself at the centre of the theatre of postcolonial identity, and at the centre of (sometimes tragic) human dramas, the artist acts (it being theatre), and performs as a prosopopoeia (Greek) which is a rhetorical device (one which conveys a meaning with the goal of persuading the viewer towards considering a topic from a perspective), in which the artist communicates to the audience by speaking as another person. The term literally derives from the Greek roots prósopon “face, person”, and poiéin “to make, to do;”. Prosopopoeiae are used mostly to give another perspective on the action being described.2

Fosso is both himself and the Black Pope; Fosso is himself and he is also the Chairman. Indeed, Fosso offers a complex conceptual framework in order / in disorder, to understand alternative histories of postcolonial identity. What if there was a Black Pope? What if the Chinese bankroll the finances of African governments and then make them subservient to the will of the Chinese government? How are the privileges of colonial occupation and disenfranchisement being played out on Black bodies and Black cultures even to this day?

Through his different personas the artist allows himself to perform what would otherwise be hidden from view, crossing the threshold between reality and fiction. Crossing such a threshold through performative photography and ritual, “makes possible the emergence of a space of play which asserts that the world does not express a determinate and final order but is infinitely open to the emergence of new… forms of self-organization”3

New forms of identity that critique colonial and world histories. In this sense, Fosso is saying that African creativity and representation matters.

“So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. Press release from the exhibition Ladies and Gentlemen: The Camera as a Mirror at the Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden, February – April 2012. Press release
  2. See Anonymous. “Prosopopoeia,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 12/11/2022
  3. Massie, Pascal. “Masks and the Space of Play,” in Research in Phenomenology Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb 2018), p. 119. Abstract. Brill publishers.

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images Courtesy of The Walther Collection.

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“My initial encounter with photographic images outside of the Central African Republic was purely through pictures in magazines, brought by young American Peace Corps volunteers who came to the Central African Republic to visit Pygmies. I was especially excited by the images of the African Americans and their sense of style. I was also very much taken with the style of the popular singer and musician Prince Nico Mbarga, who was very hot around West Africa in 1976 and 1977 with his record Sweet Mother. I wanted to replicate these two stylistic approaches in the studio with me, posing as a model.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife. Acknowledging his nephew’s precocious talent, Fosso’s uncle, a cobbler with whom he was living, bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.

Besides photographing families and friends and taking people’s passport photos, he captured popular occasions, weddings, baptisms and ceremonies. In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. “If I hadn’t finished the film, I used the last two or three for my own account, and I benefited from that to make my own works,” says Fosso when we meet at the home of his long-standing agent, Jean-Marc Patras, in Paris.

There were two other reasons why Fosso became impassioned about photography. One was that he desperately wanted to send photographs of himself to his grandmother in Nigeria. “Whenever I would make my self-portraits, I would send one picture to my grandmother to reassure her that everything was going well for me and keep one for myself,” Fosso says. The other reason is linked to his early infancy. Born in 1962 in Kumba, south-western Cameroon, to Nigerian parents of Igbo ethnicity, Fosso was born partly paralysed. His mother took him to Nigeria – where his grandfather was a ‘native doctor’, or ‘priest healer’ – to be cured, so he could walk normally. He remained there with his grandparents during the Biafran War, during which time his mother died. After the war ended, his uncle collected him and the pair returned to Cameroon for one year before moving to Bangui.

Fosso had missed out on the tradition of being photographed as a three-month-old baby due to his health condition. In an interview with the late Okwui Enwezor (the influential Nigerian-born curator, for a forthcoming Steidl monographic book, Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait), Fosso recounts: “Even though my mother believed I was a normal child, despite the fact that I was paralysed, there was still no photograph commissioned, even after one year, because my father did not see the need to waste money on a paralysed child. So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

As if to compensate for what had been denied to him, Fosso began asserting his identity and marking his presence, existence and vitality for life by experimenting with self-portraiture, nurturing the freedom this offered. It is a selection of these seminal photographs, titled Autoportrait/Self-portrait from 70s Lifestyle (1975-1978), made between the ages of 13-16… They show the young, slim-framed Fosso striking poses in front of theatrical backdrops and wearing elegant outfits made by a local tailor with fabrics he had purchased. In one image, Fosso – dressed in a white shirt, dark flared trousers and patterned jacket – is bowing slightly, a smile across his face, as if imagining that he is about to meet someone. In others, he has gloved hands on his hips, sporting just a pair of underpants, or he dons tasselled trousers and high-heeled boots.

For inspiration for his looks, Fosso would peruse catalogues, magazines and album covers. “I used American magazines, especially photos of black musicians like James Brown, and showed the magazine pictures to the tailor,” he recalls. “During the colonial years, [African] ministers were obliged to wear a suit and tie, so I chose to make seven photos of me wearing suits like the French. I would also design the décor.” Providing an insight into Fosso’s studio, the photographs show a large picture of Bangui on the wall and several curtains being used for backgrounds. They also offer a social commentary about modern life in Bangui during the post-independence years. Coincidentally, Fosso was making these works at the same time as Cindy Sherman was developing her Murder Mystery series (1976) and Bus Riders (1976) in New Jersey before her iconic Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In a similar vein, Fosso was becoming his own director and character, developing his form of self-expression.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'La femme américaine libérée des années 70' (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
La femme américaine libérée des années 70 (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

“That’s how my Tati series (1997) began, because I did not want to go back to the black-and-white style as Keïta and Sidibé had done for their Tati commissions. Since there were three African photographers, I wanted my project to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography. My goal was to take a new direction in my work.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Le Rocker' (The Rocker) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Le Rocker (The Rocker)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Three years later, Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.

In each photograph in the Tati (1997) series, Fosso changes like a chameleon, masquerading as various figures, exploring issues around gender and stereotypes. His image titled The Chief (the one who sold Africa to the colonists), above, which was printed on the cover of the catalogue of the travelling exhibition, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2004-2007), questions the role of African chiefs in the slave trade. Fosso also transforms himself into a liberated woman, wearing brightly coloured trousers, high heels and a Panama hat, a bourgeois woman in a sequinned top holding a white fur, and to a sailor.

How did people react to these pictures? “People asked if I was homosexual and why I wanted to disguise myself as a woman; wearing women’s clothes was taboo,” he replies. “Now the mentality is changing a bit. Now people are asking why I wanted to do it. I thought of doing something about how black Americans were liberated in the 1960s and 70s, and the liberated woman.”

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)
1997
From the series Tati

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Golfer' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Golfer
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Conceptual Framework

The Walther Collection presents a retrospective exhibition of photographic works by Samuel Fosso (b. 1962), one of the most renowned contemporary African artists working today. Spanning his five-decade career, Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces revisits bodies of work that explore issues central to the contemporary art scene. The exhibition retraces a career that oscillates between personal introspection and collective narratives through major series and lesser-known works from his youth.

Since the mid-1970s, Samuel Fosso has dedicated his artistic practice to self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities. His early studio experiments and later series created innovative imagery that questioned ethnographic views of Africa as well as the economic imperatives of studio portraiture. Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is presented across two galleries of The Walther Collection’s White Cube, bringing together a selection of works from all the artist’s series: early studio photography from the 1970s to 1990s is exhibited in the upper gallery and later works reflecting the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics are shown in the main gallery space.

Fosso’s work reflects the shifts that occurred in the history of photography in Africa when Africans began to turn the camera onto themselves and began to visualise and embody postcolonial perspectives. In 1975, at the age of thirteen, Fosso opened his Studio Photo Nationale in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. By day he photographed paying clientele, highlighting their fashion and individual styles, depicting them in sometimes exuberant poses. At night, he focused the camera on himself. Fosso’s expressive black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s reference West African popular culture, formulating a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation.

Another significant theme that runs through Fosso’s oeuvre is fashion as a powerful tool for expression, transformation, and image-making. In his words, ‘clothes help me tell the character’s story and share their own emotions… but most of all the clothes help me understand them.’ Several of his series examine how self-styling and (manipulation of) the mass media have shaped the representation of social and political ideals and selves.

While the series Tati (1997) investigates the transformative power of fashion through satirical representation, other photo essays such as Mémoire d’un ami (2000) explore themes of memory and ritual. Reconstructing a night in 1997, when the artist’s friend and neighbour was murdered by armed militia in Bangui, Fosso reflects on global socio-political issues through his photographic performance with astonishing vulnerability.

For the series African Spirits (2008), Fosso reenacted historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, examining the power of iconography. The African and African-American figures represented in the series, like Angela Davis, Malcom X or Haile Selassie, are instantly recognisable through their iconic fashion and adopted poses, their masterful utilisation of self-styling imbuing them with undeniable power to create social and political impact.

Five years later, Fosso embodies Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa (2013), manifesting the relationship between style and image again in a powerful project of political portraits, while at the same time highlighting the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries.

The selection of two diptychs from the series ALLONZENFANS (2013) depicts Fosso’s intervention into the fraught history of France’s relationship with its former colonies. Fosso poses as members of the military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War, alternating between a stern-looking soldier at attention and a smiling soldier at ease, drafted for the French regiments. Like African Spirits and Emperor of Africa, ALLONZENFANS illustrates the artist’s ongoing engagement with specific episodes of Africa’s and Europe’s history.

With the Black Pope (2017), Fosso confronts politics of religion between Europe and Africa, addressing the fact that, despite high populations of Roman Catholics on the continent, there has never been a pope of African heritage. While African Catholics hoped that this would be corrected during the 2013 conclave without success, Fosso’s evocative body of work created four years later, teases our imagination, and invites us to consider the improbable event of an African on the papal seat.

By presenting a wide spectrum of Fosso’s work, this comprehensive retrospective offers generous insight into how the artist’s practice deviates sharply from West African studio photography traditions established by Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé during the 1950s and 1960s – from his early work examining postcolonial African society’s burgeoning desires to his later conceptual work which explores the way photographs travel the world and change meaning over time. By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”

Samuel Fosso was born in Kumba, Cameroon, in 1962 and raised in Nigeria. He fled the Biafran War as an adolescent, and in 1972 was taken in by his uncle in Bangui in the Central African Republic. After learning about photography from a neighbour, he set up his own photo studio at the age of 13.

Fosso was awarded the Afrique en Création prize in 1995 and was the recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award in 2001. His self-portraits are represented in the collections of international museums such as Tate Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou and musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. In 2017, a solo exhibition of his work was held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2020, the monograph Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Fosso’s photographs was published by Steidl and The Walther Collection. Samuel Fosso lives and works between Nigeria and France.

 

Publications

On the occasion of the retrospective Samuel Fosso at MEP in 2021, 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.

SIXSIXSIX consists of 666 large-format Polaroid self-portraits, produced in an intensive process by Samuel Fosso with a small team in his Paris studio in 2015 and 2016. Shot against the same rich, coloured backdrop, these striking photographs depart from Fosso’s earlier self-portraits through their understated and stripped-back approach. Fosso’s challenge was to create 666 self-portraits each with a different bodily expression, reminding us of the link between his performances and photography. The publication opens with a conversation between Fosso and curator and critic Hans Ulrich Obrist.

 

About the Exhibition

Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is a touring exhibition organised by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris) in collaboration with The Walther Collection (Neu-Ulm) and Huis Marseille (Amsterdam), with the support of Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

Text from The Walther Collection website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

 

“When I work, it’s always a performance that I choose to undertake. It’s not a subject or an object; it’s one more human being. I link my body to this figure, because I want to translate its history.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

“I see slavery as connected to all these questions of freedom, liberation, colonialism, and power. To me, slavery was the source, and I wanted to deal with it in a really deep way. My goal was to restage key images and figures in this history from King during the American civil rights movement to Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire during the independence and liberation of Africa. To my mind, all these struggles had one thing in common, and that is the history of slavery. And these figures were committed to the idea of freedom for black people in order to reclaim their culture and human dignity. This was the underlying concept of African Spirits.

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

Fosso’s quest to pay homage to historical, political figures that had fought for black civil rights became more precise in his black-and-white series, African Spirits (2008), produced in Patras’ former gallery in Paris. Marking a decisive shift in direction, each photograph is based on a specific image of one of Fosso’s heroes that he faithfully reinterpreted, casting himself as a different character each time. This involved creating elaborate backdrops, hiring costumes and imitating facial expressions. In one, Fosso interprets Martin Luther King Jr’s mugshot following King’s arrest in Alabama in 1956 for his leadership role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Others see him assuming the identities of African-Americans such as Muhammad Ali and the political activist Angela Davis (above), African leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire, who co-founded the Négritude movement to restore the cultural identity of black Africans, and Keïta.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

 

“We cannot accept, because of Chinese money, the destruction of our environment. We must also preserve it for our children and for generations to come. This is what I wanted to say in Lagos, in 2013, on the occasion of my first exhibition in Nigeria, where my series Emperor of Africa was also presented for the first time. In this series, Mao is the emperor of this Africa that the Chinese have come to invade. It is the question of economic independence which arises after that of political independence.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

 

“I want to show the black man’s relationship to the power that oppresses him.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

“Samuel Fosso’s Black Pope explores the way religion and its symbols and objects that are used to create the narrative of a papal figure are so removed from the African context and culture that it almost promotes this idea of whiteness and white supremacy. In the history of the papacy, there has never been a black pope, while today the greatest number of Roman Catholics is actually in Africa.”

Azu Nwagbogu, 2017

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

Next came the series Allonzenfans (2013), in which Fosso reflects upon how France conscripted men from its West African colonies to fight in the First and Second World Wars, followed by Black Pope (2017), above. For the latter, Fosso was awarded the Infinity Art Award 2018 from the International Centre of Photography in New York. At the Rencontres de Bamako in 2017, one enlarged image from the series was presented alongside contact sheets comprising dozens of shots of Fosso enacting the Pope. In total, 70 unique portraits are being produced, according to Patras. In some, Fosso is reading the Bible, praying or holding the papal ferula while standing on a meteorite – an evident pun on Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture, La Nona Ora (1999), an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. The series alludes to Fosso’s hope that one day the Catholic Church will have a black pope. “I asked myself why there has never been a black pope, but now there’s been a Polish pope [John Paul II], a German pope [Benedict XVI] and now a pope from South America [Francis], so perhaps one day there’ll be a black pope,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

“It’s neither the body that smiles, nor the body that cries, but a representation of life and all the misfortunes that strike us deep within. In the end, it’s about buried emotions that we ourselves create, and about exorcising my own resentment in the face of this situation.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

Fosso’s series, SixSixSix (2015) – presented at the National Portrait Gallery in 2017 – is the subject of a second new Steidl book due later this year. Over three weeks in a Parisian studio, Fosso posed shirtless, sitting on a chair, two or three times a day in front of a crimson backdrop, staring at the camera. This culminated in 666 unique Polaroid images that capture Fosso’s varying emotional states, from glum, sad, angry to happy. The classical framing of each self-portrait depicting Fosso’s face and shoulders, his body almost merging into the background, is identical. What differs is the emanating mood and facial expression, no two images being exactly the same.

The title of the series referring to the evil connotation of the figure 666 in the Bible, the work was made partly in response to the Central African Republic’s civil war from 2012-2014. “My house, studio and photography accessories were completely destroyed,” laments Fosso, who eventually managed to escape the violence and catch a flight to France as he had a French passport. Although his archive has been preserved by Patras and the negatives of his series are with Griffin Editions in New York, Fosso lost some of his early colour photographs when his studio was set alight. “Unhappiness has often struck my path – illness and war in my childhood, then wars and wars,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday 2 – 5pm
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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