After the civil war that devastated Nigeria’s Igbo community, Samuel Fosso was sent in 1972 to live with an uncle who was a shoemaker in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Dissatisfied with the cobblestone, Fosso apprenticed with an Igbo photographer down the street. Three years after his arrival, he opened his own portrait studio. He was 13 years old.
At the end of the workday, he would finish a black-and-white roll of self-portraits for his hometown grandmother to show that she was in good health despite being a sick child. She wore a tank top and panties, oversized sunglasses, a jiu-jitsu costume or trendy tasseled white pants – she adopted the attire and mannerisms of African and African American pop stars, flaunting in front of the painted backgrounds she used for her clients. .
Thus began a lifelong self-portrait imitation project that has made the 60-year-old Fosso one of Africa’s leading photographers. Organized by art historian and professor Chika Okeke-Agulu at the Princeton University Museum of Art, the first solo American museum exhibition, “Samuel Fosso: Positive Ambassadorship,” draws heavily on collector Artur Walther’s possessions and presents a compact presentation of Fosso’s work. Work.
In 1994, he skyrocketed from his career as a studio photographer in a small African city to worldwide recognition when he won an award at the first photography biennial in Bamako, Mali, where he was compared to Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta. Two acclaimed portrait artists from Bamako. “I didn’t know I was doing art photography,” curator Okwui told Enwezor at Aperture. What I knew was that I had transformed myself into what I wanted to be. I was having a series of ideas about myself.
In 1997, a commission from Tati, a discount clothing store in Paris, inspired her to take her passion to a higher level. She worked in color to differentiate herself from Sidibé and Keïta, staging self-portraits in which she took on the roles of entirely fictional characters: a businessman, a bourgeois woman, a rocker. In one, she dressed as a “free American woman of the ’70s”, applying makeup with lipstick and eyeliner, painting her nails blue, and donning a brightly patterned patchwork jacket, beaded necklaces, straw hat, and purple stiletto heels. she closed with a great female self-confidence.
It is even bolder to introduce himself as “the chief who sold Africa to the colonists”. Adopting the faux tribal costume of contemporary African dictators like the Congolese Mobutu Sese Seko, but in cheap ersatz versions (fake leopard skins, tourist souvenir gold jewelry, a bracelet on his calf, and a toe ring), Fosso, holding a bunch of sunflowers, stands behind white designer canopies. way it stands out. In a room covered in bold patterned fabrics on the floor and walls, his bare feet are on a Kuba cloth next to a pair of red loafers he proudly displays as proof of his well-being.
Taking both color and black-and-white photographs in subsequent series, Fosso found himself in the elite Black men (Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Haile Selassie) in “African Spirits” (2008) and in the colonial army in “ALLONZENFANS” (ALLONZENFANS) (2013). as African soldiers. For “The Black Pope” (2017), he wore authentic papal garb, which he bought from Gammarelli, the pope’s official tailor in Rome. He underscored the fact that although there were large numbers of Roman Catholics in Africa (Fosso himself is Catholic), there was never a Black pope.
Fosso’s assumption of divergent identity is often compared to the work of Cindy Sherman, but she did not begin her groundbreaking “Film Stills” in 1977, two years after she began her self-portrait. “Rock Star (Character Possession),” by Argentine artist David Lamelas, who photographed himself as a guitarist in 1974, comes close to the paintings Fosso did in his early years, but was unaware of contemporary Western artists in Bangui. .
He finds multiplicity in himself. His most direct approach to aspects of his personality was inspired by a disaster. While in Paris in 2014, his studio in Bangui was looted and destroyed during internal strife. Depressed and shaken, he remained in Paris and in 2015 began making “SIXSIXSIX,” a series of 666 Polaroid self-portraits. She recorded different expressions on her unadorned face, explaining that she was avoiding costume and make-up and “repelling my own resentment at this situation”. He chose the “number of the beast” associated with the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament because he thought why people did evil.
He bought a chair used by the police to take a criminal record to ensure that his face is positioned the same in each photo. The unique print series is in the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, but in this exhibition the photographs are sequentially displayed at the end of a small show, in a single-channel video installation that takes place at the end of a small show. A selection of portraits of local citizens that Fosso made in his studio as he started his career. Side by side, you see two forces driving his art: West Africa’s deep-rooted studio practices and a healthy dose of self-esteem.
Samuel Fosso: Positive Behaviors
Until January 29, Princeton University Art Museum, Art on Hulfish, 11 Hulfish Street, Princeton, NJ, artmuseum.princeton.edu